"One of the biggest contributing factors to young worker injuries is a breakdown in communication with their supervisors about potential hazards," says WSPS Consultant Troy Nel. An average of 42 young Ontario workers are injured, made ill, or killed on the job every day.*
"Supervisors tell us young workers won't speak to them about hazards and don't ask questions, so they assume everything's okay," says Troy. The reality is things are often not okay, but new and young workers are afraid to speak up for fear of getting into trouble, being blamed, or looking stupid because they can't describe what's happening.
As a result, these workers may ignore the concern, attempt to fix it themselves, or seek guidance from someone who may not be safety conscious. That’s when incidents happen.
"New and young workers need reassurance, as well as knowledge and a vocabulary for workplace processes, risks and controls so they can confidently question whether something is unsafe."
The best way to relay this information is through a hazard-focused health and safety orientation session that complements a general orientation, says Troy. "Two or three hours of dedicated time can help prevent injuries and create safety conscious workers."
6-step new and young worker orientation
Build your new and young worker orientation with these steps.
- Describe the workplace processes and job tasks. "If you tell a seasoned worker they'll be using a forklift, they already understand the physics of how a forklift works." A new or young worker will not. Go over the operation of all machines and equipment the worker will be using and interacting with.
- Review all aspects of the RACE process for recognizing, assessing, controlling and evaluating hazards. Young workers need to understand what's dangerous and what's not, how great the risks are, and how to apply the hierarchy of controls to reduce risks. "RACE is used by joint health and safety committees, employers and supervisors to implement safety controls and procedures, but new and young workers also need to understand what this looks like," says Troy. "It will help them identify hazards - someone who should be wearing PPE, no guarding on equipment, etc."
- Emphasize the consequences of not following safety procedures. Young workers are eager to impress and show what they can do, all while believing they are bullet proof, says Troy. "They need to understand how serious the harm can be." For example, putting their arm into a machine to clear a block could lead to losing the arm."
- Have the workers complete a written safety pledge to "follow the law and workplace practices and procedures to prevent injury to myself." Engage workers in the process by posing questions that get them thinking about the consequences of an injury:
- the reasons they are working - to buy a car, pay rent, etc.
- the activities they like to do - basketball, swimming, painting, etc.
- how an injury to their hands, legs or eyes could affect their ability to do these things
- why they want to work safely - for themselves, for their parents or their future children.
- Conduct a walkthrough, posing "eagle eye" challenges. For example:
- Does this task look hazardous?
- Can you spot the hazards?
- These are the controls we have in place. Is there anything else you can do to make this task safer?
"Just get them thinking proactively," says Troy.
- Address fears about speaking up. Start by reassuring your workers: "It's not your fault if the machine jams," "You will never get in trouble for reporting a hazard or concern," "I will never laugh at you, or think you are stupid if you don't understand something or don't express yourself well." Then explain the steps to take if they perceive a possible hazard.
How WSPS can help
- Health and Safety Awareness for Ontario Workers (1-hour eCourse)
- Orientation on Health and Safety for New Workers (1.5-hour eCourse)
- Supervisor Responsibilities and Due Diligence (1/2-day public or virtual classroom)
- Safety pledge for workers
- 5 ways to engage new and young workers (article)
- 4 ways to support new and young workers (article)
- Vulnerable Workers Health and Safety Awareness (article)
- New and Young Workers Poster
* Source: Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.