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Investment in New and Young Workers

13th September 2021

New and Young Workers became a topic of interest for Rama Altaleb, a summer student who held a position with Carbon Safety recently.  Rama was interested in how safety applies to these workers (herself included) who are entering the workforce. Rama volunteered to write this month’s blog post.  She has graduated high school and will be starting her first year of university at VIU, hoping to start a career in the medical profession. Please see Rama’s blog post below.

I am sure that we all have felt grief when we’ve heard a story involving someone getting seriously injured, or worse, someone we know.  Consequences can also be worse where someone has died due to a workplace accident, especially when it comes to a young worker.  But have we ever considered that we could be next?

New and Young Workers

WorkSafeBC (WSBC) defines “New worker” as any worker who is new to the workplace or the hazards of the workplace; ”Young worker” is any worker under the age of 25.

For the interests of this blog post I will focus on young workers, however new workers are also at risk of workplace injuries due to a number of factors.

There are more than 250,000 workers in British Columbia, ranging in age from 15 to 24.  Many are high school, college, or university students who hold part-time jobs while attending school and who take on full-time jobs during summer months.  They work in many areas – from fast food and retail clothing to construction and delivery drivers.  These people have one thing in common: they are at high risk of being severely injured on the job.

There are countless reasons teenagers enter the workforce, despite the potential health and safety risks.  Some of these include:

  • Gaining experience;
  • Preparing for adult life;
  • Gaining life skills;
  • Supporting their family financially;
  • Doing something they enjoy; or
  • Simply earning money.

Why Focus on These Workers?

  • They are our future employers and supervisors and provide the opportunity for long term societal change.
  • Ensuring the safety of today’s generation of young workers is an investment in the safety of future generations.
  • Besides, there is always a heightened sense of tragedy when it comes to accidents for young workers.  Imagine a 16 or 17 year old teen who has been seriously injured or paralyzed, their future tragically altered.
  • Young male workers have a much higher risk. They are 70% more likely to be injured than any other worker.

How many young and new workers get injured or killed in the workplace?

According to WorkSafeBC, young workers have more injuries than any other age group in British Columbia:

  • More than 50 percent of work-related accidents happen during a young worker’s first 6 months on the job.
  • WSBC “Rights and Responsibilities Program” indicates: 34 young workers are injured every working day.
  • 5 young workers are permanently disabled each week.
  • About 5 young workers die each year at work.
  • 1 out of every 21 young males are hurt on a job in BC.

It is reasonable to expect that some of these numbers are even higher but haven’t been reported.

Typical reasons why young and new workers are injured

Some reasons include:

  • Lack of experience;
  • Lack of training, orientation, and supervision;
  • Lack of understanding of their workplace;
  • Lack of preparation for the workplace;
  • Exposure to dangerous jobs;
  • Hesitancy to ask questions;
  • Pressure to work faster which leads to stressful conditions; and
  • Unrealistic about their own mortality.

A quote by Jack Thomas, a young worker who experienced a terrible accident: “I always used to be one of those people that thinks it’s going to happen to somebody else, not myself. That’s not true at all.”

Statistics Canada identified accidents as the number one leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 to 24.  There were 629 deaths in 2019 alone.  The second leading cause of death for young people in 2019 of the same age was self harm (suicide) with 506 deaths.

If you are wondering how this is related to young workers, here is my explanation: Young workers are still developing physically and mentally.  If a safe and healthy work environment for new and young workers has not been maintained, accident rates increase, therefore accident fatality rates may also increase.  The mental health of young workers who work in a stressful work environment may also be negatively be affected, potentially increasing the likelihood of young workers to have mental health issues, and, in extreme cases, increase risk of self harm and suicide.

How could this be prevented?

Preventive measures have more value than reactive measures.  “precautions should be taken before and not after”

Injuries are preventable in most workplaces. Employers are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for all workers.

Some basic steps the employers can take to reduce the likelihood of injuries to young workers are:

  • Understanding their needs;
  • Give clear instructions when doing training;
  • Assigning suitable work tasks;
  • Safety and Personal protective equipment;
  • Emergency training; and
  • Supervision.

WSBC OHS Regulation, section 3.23 Young or New Workers Orientation and Training states: The employer has the legal responsibility to ensure that young and new workers are given health and safety orientation and training.

A Students Thoughts on New and Young Workers

As a young worker, I have the right to prioritize my mental and physical health and refuse any unsafe work.  However, we also are responsible to follow some steps to help us reduce the likelihood of injuries:

  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are uncertain about anything.
  • Get involved, take actions and support young worker health and safety.
  • Workers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with their workplace health and safety rights and responsibilities.
  • According to section 8.9 Workers responsibility of WSBC OHS Regulation a worker must use personal protective equipment and clothing as directed by the employer.
  • According to section 3.10 Reporting Unsafe Conditions of WSBS OHS Regulation a worker must report anything that appears to be an unsafe or harmful condition or act.

In Conclusion

  • Employers have to do more.
  • The employers should not expect new and young workers to be fully experienced, trained, and knowledgeable.
  • It is the employer’s responsibility to understand that young workers are not yet an adult, in fact they are only older children.
  • New and young workers need to be aware of their rights and receive more extensive frequent training.

Any accident has the potential to impact someone’s life, and even future. Never think, “it’s gonna happen to somebody else, not me.”  You could be next!

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