The summer is traditionally the time when young people head into the workforce, finding that sweet spot of summer earnings, for perhaps their education fund, a second or third-hand car, or maybe just a little extra spending money. Whether they are working on the family farm, life-guarding at their community pool or scooping ice-cream at the local Frosty Freeze, it is unlikely they have given much, if any, thought to potential workplace hazards that may be looming.
David Ellis certainly didn’t. It was his second day on the job at the bakery where he was cleaning dough from an industrial mixer when the machinery accidentally became activated. He was drawn into the mixer by the rotating blades and struck his head. He was taken to hospital and died of his injuries six days later.
His father, Rob Ellis turned this tragedy into an opportunity to protect and educate young workers, by becoming a safety champion and establishing the Our Youth at Work Foundation and MySafeWork.com website with his daughter, Jessica Di Sabatino. Started in 2000, the foundation has reached millions of employers, workers, educators, parents and students across North America with its message of “inspiring courage, influencing change.” Rob has as many as 150 speaking engagements per year, speaking to up to 1,000 students at a time. So you could say Rob’s an expert communicator on the subject of health and safety for young workers.
Just as summer is when young workers are in full force, it is also the time when the Ministry of Labour, as it has done for the last three years, begins its annual New/Young Worker Blitz. Workplace injuries and fatalities can usually be traced to a few root causes that may vary by sector. The Ministry of Labour’s proactive inspection blitzes on sector-specific hazards are designed to raise awareness and increase compliance with health and safety legislation.
These blitzes are announced in advance and results are reported after they are completed. The ministry tracks each sector to determine if the blitzes result in a long-lasting increase in compliance and decrease in injuries.
“The message needs to be said to employers and young workers,” says Ellis. “The government is concerned that 40,000 young workers are injured on the job every year. We need to better protect our future leaders. Not only does the Ministry of Labour play a role in this protection, but so do employers, parents and the workers themselves.”
What are the most important things we can all do to keep our young workers safe?
- Ask Questions! During the interview stage, young workers (and probably most adults) just want the job and don’t want to appear demanding, but this is the perfect time to ask about anything that is cause for concern, especially your own safety. Ask about training and orientation.
- Once hired, continue to ask questions and know it’s your right to refuse unsafe work. Develop an open line of communications with your employer and ask for further training and supervision if needed.
- Keep your parents informed – discuss any concerns with them
- Encourage dialogue with your children – set a good example and share positive stories from your own experiences as a young worker
- Where possible, open dialogue between you and your child’s employer can make a difference
- Provide comprehensive training and orientation
- Encourage questions and provide an environment where young workers feel confident to ask questions
- Provide a “safe” environment for employees to ask questions without the fear of reprisals or dismissal
- Training can be as easy as creating a “buddy” system, partnering a young worker with someone more experienced when they first start (statistically, most accidents happen within the first 30 days of employment)
There’s an opportunity for all of us to become safety champions and the onus doesn’t fall to just one group. As important as it is for employers to do everything in compliance with the legislation, it’s equally important for parents and young workers to be responsible and advocates of their own safety.
For more information about this Ministry of Labour blitz and upcoming blitzes, visit the Ministry of Labour website.
To read more about Rob Ellis and his work, visit MySafeWork website.
Blitz on new workers
The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has identified that any new worker, of any age on the job, is up to four times more likely to be injured during the first month than any other time performing that job. Any new hire, whether permanent or temporary, including supervisors, with or without experience in the industry, and any current workers who are assigned new jobs are at increased risk.
The New and Young Workers Blitz will be conducted over the next four months in the industrial and health care sectors, in extended coverage workplaces, and as part of the construction sector low-rise residential blitz. In addition to inspecting for compliance with all legislative requirements, MOL inspectors will check specifically for:
- whether required employee orientation, training and supervision are in place
- what safety measures are in place to prevent injuries to this vulnerable group of workers
There are many possibilities as to why new and young workers are at greater risk of injury, such as:
- have received inadequate training
- have little or no prior work experience
- Are afraid to ask questions
- They don’t know their individual rights
Workplace health and safety is everyone’s responsibility and by law, employers must be compliant with the Ontario Health & Safety Act. There are numerous health & safety topic resources available to help you ensure you are keeping your employees safe, that you are meeting the requirements of the act, and that your MOL inspection will go smoothly.