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Supervisors' role in young workers' safety

By Alex Morrison

Between 2004 and 2009, 40 young workers under the age of 24 died in the workplace, and 573 were critically injured.

At the Partners in Prevention 2010 conference held recently, a panel of speakers gathered at one of the sessions to discuss the issue of young worker safety and what companies that hire them can do to prevent more young people from getting hurt on the job.

Although getting the youth involved in their own safety is a serious step in reducing the number of deaths and injuries, correct supervision of these new and young workers is even more vital, Sandro Perruzza, executive director at the Safe Workplace Promotion Services Ontario said. Of the 100,000 new businesses started each year, 40 per cent are spearheaded by 25- to 34-year-olds and 16 per cent are helmed by youth.

With more and more young adults becoming supervisors themselves these days, Perruzza says a strict procedure on supervision is pivotal for young workers.

At the panel session, Perruzza was joined by other speakers including: Roy Ford provincial specialist with the Ministry of Labour; Rhonda Bridger, an assistant director with the WSIB; Joel Rabideau, senior manager of corporate health and safety business integration at clothing retailer GAP Inc. Alex Taylor, a young worker, was also part of the panel.

Taylor, who at 18-years-old has already worked in four different industry sectors, offered his thoughts on how to get youth interested in the issue of workplace safety. Elements such as support, encouragement, incentives and a reward system can push young workers to be proactive in safety, he said.

Most young worker fatalities were vehicle, machinery and/or fall-related, while more than 40 per cent of lost-time injury claims occurred in the services sector according to data from the WSIB.

Echoing Perruzza’s statement, Rabideau says young workers should not be left alone. He relates how his company requires supervisors to keep a watchful eye on their employees, as they bear the responsibility if any accidents occur.

“When we put this due diligence program into effect, we lost over 100 supervisors in one day, who opted to take another position with less responsibility,” Rabideau recalled.

Having that kind of weight on their shoulders may seem too much for some of his supervisors, but Rabideau believes that with the correct orientation, safety training, mentoring and accurate observation the workplace can be accident-free.

With the Ministry of Labour’s young workers blitz beginning in May, Ford went into detail about the initiative that is going in its third consecutive year. For four months, the blitz has inspectors from the Ministry of Labor going into workplaces to assess the safety of new hires and young workers. Inspectors will look at training, supervision, the age of the workers, pre-fall prevention, guarding and many more elements to achieve the goal of preventing deaths and injuries among young workers.

The manufacturing, tourism, service and farming sectors are the workplaces of interest for this blitz, Ford said. The inspections will focus on workers aged 14 to 24 years old and those who may be over 25 years old but are new hires.

Beginning work at a young age can be a very exciting time but there are many dangers and risks unknown to the young worker. It’s up to the business managers and supervisors of today to keep the leaders of tomorrow safe, knowledgably equipped to handle any situation and most importantly, keep a strong sense of safety awareness in their mindset, the panel concluded. 

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