The Ministry of Labour's Joe O'Grady has critical advice for employers of new and young workers: "supervise, supervise, supervise!" Follow this advice and you can prevent injuries and save lives, says O'Grady; these new and young workers are three times more likely to be injured during the first month on the job than at any other time.
Just how much information, instruction, and supervision workplaces provide is now under scrutiny during the ministry's new and young worker blitz, which continues until August 31, says O'Grady. "If you look at past blitzes, that's the one area in which orders have increased substantially over the last decade."
A former inspector, he now trains inspectors as part of his job as a regional program co-ordinator with the ministry's Industrial Health and Safety Program. Read on for O'Grady's personal insights, and suggestions on how to put his advice into action.
Awareness grows but injuries continue
"When I was 14," says O'Grady, "I walked into a factory to start my first job. A supervisor pointed at a forklift and said, 'Can you drive that?'" An astonished O'Grady said, "Yeah, no problem." With zero training, he began driving a fully loaded forklift in a workplace filled with people.
"Kids today would just say, 'Are you kidding me?'" This speaks to a greater awareness among new and young workers about hazards in the workplace and their rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), says O'Grady. "We've been putting a lot of resources - the ministry and health and safety system partners - around educating young and new workers."
Despite this, young workers are still being seriously injured and killed on the job. Between 2011 and 2015, 33 workers aged 15 to 24 died in work-related incidents. In 2015, five young workers died, and injuries to young workers resulted in more than 6,400 lost-time claims.
During their annual new and young worker blitzes, ministry inspectors look for compliance with the OHSA in the following areas:
- informing, instructing and ensuring supervision of workers
- preparing a written health and safety policy
- providing proper safety measures
- carrying out workplace inspections
- having a joint health and safety committee or representative.
Every year, the ministry inspections identify many contraventions. During the 2016 new and young worker blitz, inspectors issued 3,113 orders, including 44 stop work orders.*
8 tips for keeping your new and young workers safe
"Generally, employers and supervisors try and want to do the right things," says O’Grady. But with the number of orders issued during the new and young worker blitzes we can all do better at making sure these vulnerable young workers are getting enough information, instruction and supervision.
Learning a new task takes time, explains O’Grady, especially for young workers with no life experience. "You can't just tell them once and walk away. They'll forget." So, provide continuous supervision over the first few weeks or months. "You need to observe and correct over and over again to ensure the worker has absorbed what you have told them, and can demonstrate what you want."
O'Grady strongly encourages supervisors to build time into the schedule to do this, however packed those schedules may be. "The supervisor and the employer both have to be on board. And the employer has to allow supervisors time to integrate it into their daily routine. Otherwise young workers won't get the consistent coaching they need." Use senior workers to coach young workers, adds O'Grady.
While observing young workers, watch for cues that something might be wrong. For example, a worker who may seem confused or distracted, or is working more slowly. Encourage comfortable and positive communication between workers and supervisors. "Always be available to assist when workers bring up issues," says O'Grady. It's also a good idea to include them in safety inspections as observers, so they see what hazards those inspections are looking for."
How we can help
Check out our comprehensive list of new and young worker resources, including e-courses, videos, downloads, orientation training, and much more.
WSPS consultants are also on hand to help you develop a comprehensive young worker orientation program and build supervisor competence around young workers.
* Review the results of last year's blitz: www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/blitzes/blitz_report79.php