Employers must do more to train
and monitor new and young workers
Canadian employers have to do more, and adapt their training to better arm their new and young workers for the hazards they will encounter on the job. Parents also play a key role, and panelists are divided on whether we need to adapt training to reflect specific gender or age related safety issues.
Those are some of the findings of the Canadian Occupational Safety reader panelists who responded to our questions on protecting young workers. The questions sparked some great feedback and thoughtful commentary, and proved that there are no easy answers.
Although one recent study found that only 21 per cent of Canadian employers conduct safety orientation training, a whopping 88 per cent of our reader panelists report that their firms train their young workers in health and safety.
• Many experts and studies find that the first few months on the job tend to increase the risk of personal injury. Does your firm have orientation and training BEFORE work starts for your young workers?
“Safety orientation is mandatory for ALL workers in our organization. There is no special provision for the young worker.”
“There is some confusion about this whole issue. First of all, no matter what the age of a worker, they are more likely to be injured in the first few weeks of a job. The two subjects, i.e. new workers and young workers should not be confused. Having said that, all of our plants across Canada have mandatory orientation programs.”
“It is imperative that all workers, not only young workers, get a proper orientation to the workplace.”
“My employer has safety orientation but our percentage of young workers getting hurt is still higher than older workers.”
We then asked panelists about what best practices work well at their firms. Here are some of their comments:
“We have a ‘brother’s keeper’ one week orientation on major safety risks.”
“Young workers without factory experience require close observation by our front line supervisors and health and safety personnel. Postings are put up to remind young workers of potential hazards as well as safe work procedures postings on equipment.”
“After initial orientation training, the young workers are always paired with older more experienced workers who provide insight into the operation for the new worker. The older worker acts as a mentor and provides feedback to the individual, supervisor and training regarding the new worker’s attitude, safety behaviour and job knowledge.”
“We have a specific orientation geared to young workers that takes place before they start work. We also communicate with their parents the need to discuss their child’s safety at work and provide the worker and parents with Internet-based information to help increase their awareness of safety in the workplace. This information can be found on the WorkSafeBC website.”
“Prior to starting they meet with the OSH Advisor for a briefing on all aspects of our safety program and safety committees. They are also given the outline of their jobs and what the risks and dangers associated with it are.”
“Using the concept that they don’t know, not because they are stupid but because they are new and young... there IS a difference.”
Although supervision is a key factor in reducing injury, it appears that time constraints and other priorities are getting in the way. Only one half of our reader panelists feel that their companies are doing a good enough job monitoring newly hired young workers.
• Supervision plays a key role for reducing young worker injury. At your firm, are young workers adequately monitored during their first few weeks on the job?
“New workers are under the supervision of project managers and do not go to job sites alone until the manager feels they are familiar with the hazards.”
“Most just show them where the green button is, and don’t spend enough time on one-on-one training.”
“Some plants require new workers to wear a different coloured hard hat so they can be easily recognized by experienced workers who are instructed to keep a watch on new workers to keep them out of dangerous situations and to inform them of potential risks.”
“Work pressures for supervisors often interfere with our desire for enhanced monitoring of young workers.”
“The managers / supervisors are not held accountable for health and safety. It isn’t even part of their performance review.”
There were big differences of opinion regarding the attitudes of young people in general and whether their feelings of “invincibility” hurt their attitude towards safety. The majority of our reader panelists felt that this was a factor. Others dismissed it.
• Construction Safety Magazine reports that the Farm Safety Association of Ontario (FSAO) identified the “immortality factor” as a key factor that helps explain why young workers have more accidents than older workers. How big a role do you believe the “immortality factor” plays in young worker injuries?
“This is like saying some people are accident prone, which is a myth that was eliminated years ago."
“My memories of being a young worker and recalling some of the absolutely stupid and highly dangerous acts I was instructed to do were the result of me not knowing the danger or the law, incompetent supervisors and lazy management. It is pure luck that I have both my hands today or that I am even alive because of some past experiences when I was young.”
“It is more a question of the young person wanting to impress.”
“Today younger workers get more information so they are more aware and listen more attentively to cautionary guidance during orientation and training. They are more informed, therefore more likely to say something rather than wear the invincibility of youth and take chances like their predecessors.”
“Being killed at work (or play) is a concept that does not resonate with young workers. It’s the mindset that they are invincible — this is a real problem. This is compounded by the poor examples that they see from some veteran workers who the young workers see taking short cuts or unnecessary risks — making it OK for them to do the same.”
• The Institute for Work and Health found young male workers have about twice the risk of injury compared to young females. (In Ontario, 70 per cent of lost-time injuries occurred among young males compared to 30 per cent among young females.) Do we need to customize our training programs for our young workers, male and female, to reflect gender and youth specific issues?
“We have been working on age and gender specific safety training approaches for over a year, now. The ‘new’ worker of 2007 learns in a different manner and at a different pace than did the workers of even 10 years ago. If new training programs do not engage their interest, then the transfer of the knowledge is ineffective.”
“We need to find what works for all. Statistics can be read in a variety of ways.”
“The fact that both males and females are still being injured indicates that they both need adequate training.”
“To focus solely on young workers when looking at gender differences is stupid and misleading. The fact is that males are much more likely to be injured and killed on the job than females irrelevant of age. Yes, we need to adapt our training and try to understand why such a huge number of males are being killed and injured and prevent this.”
“Gender should not play into it.”
• What role should parents play in teaching their teens and young people about safety in the workplace?
“Parents need to be interested in their children’s ‘industrial’ welfare. They need to demonstrate that they have an awareness of the real world that their children should emulate, particularly with regard to working conditions and job hazards. The employer can only present the workplace hazards in terms of the risks at work.”
“As a parent, I have gone to place where my children are working just to see what’s happening.”
“Any parent who allows their children to go to work and doesn’t discuss safety regularly with their children is irresponsible. Young workers have no reference point and tend to be very trusting of other adults and as a result will do as they are told and will believe almost anything they are told without question.”
“Parents do enough to promote home and road safety, it’s up to employers for work safety.”
“Many parents have no experience in industrial plants. In many instances they could not appreciate or contribute to the safety discussion in a productive manner; not that they are stupid, they simply don’t know.”
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Published in Reader Panel