Psychosocial Hazards

 

Up until recently, very little attention was focused on a hazard that while not visible to the naked eye can be as debilitating, if not more, than many physical workplace hazards.

 

Psychosocial hazards that may affect young workers include bullying, threats of violence, sexual harassment and stress.

 

Young workers are especially vulnerable to psychosocial hazards because of natural feelings of intimidation dealing with older individuals, some of whom may be more senior than they are in their workplaces.

 

They don’t have a reference point for what is ‘normal’ in a workplace due to lack of experience, especially if on their first job.

 

They also may be too afraid to either confront or report any kind of workplace harassment, especially if it relates to their bosses for fear of getting fired. Given the high rates of unemployment for young workers in some regions of Ontario, their tolerance level may be higher than it usually might be.

 

No workplace sector is immune to psychosocial hazards. They could be:

  • Sexual harassment of a restaurant employee or a golf course beverage cart girl
  • Bullying to an apprentice in a manufacturing facility
  • Extremely long hours causing undue stress to a young worker on a farm operation
  • Young workers need to know that their worker rights protect them from any kind of psychosocial hazard. They also need to understand that they cannot be fired for reporting any incident or ongoing behavior that impacts them.

What you can do.

If something has happened to a co-worker, it could happen to them. Framing the question as detailed above also presents the opportunity for them to retell a personal experience but position it as that of someone else.  If there is any sense that this is a possibility regardless of what they do or don’t disclose, remind them of their worker rights and that they are protected by law from any form of harassment. They also need to know that there are actions that can be taken to reduce stress, especially if they are being overworked. Communication is usually at the heart of defusing stressful work situations.  As much as they might not want to bring it up with their employers, crafting a productive way to broach the subject in advance is a valuable skill to develop, especially with your calm guidance.

 

It is crucial that they feel they have your support in helping them navigate through workplace challenges and that no job is worth risking one’s health, safety and well-being.

The topic of psychosocial hazards is one that many young people are too embarrassed or afraid to discuss. Introducing it in a conversation can be as simple as, ‘there is so much going on in that restaurant (or other workplace), I can only imagine how stressful it is for everyone.’ And then look while you listen. Are there any visual cues associated with their body language or expressions that your gut tells you something might be amiss?

 

Sexual or other forms of harassment may seem to be an awkward topic to discuss, but if approached in a relaxed, thoughtful way may be very appreciated.  A roundabout approach may be the best way to introduce it, especially in the context of vulnerable, younger females. Ask things like, “Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable?’  ‘Has anyone acted inappropriately with you or any of your co-workers?”

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