Your child is at their first week of work and concerned about performing a task they feel is dangerous. You can help.

Unfortunately most workplace injuries and fatalities involve young workers early in their employment. This happens for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the most obvious. They simply don’t have experience. This includes the skillfulness to perform tasks safely, the ability to recognize danger that comes with doing a job over time and what they should do when they are confronted with something that is dangerous. These factors alone cause thousands of injuries every year in Ontario workplaces.

They may also not have had sufficient training. Or any training. The fact is, training costs money. Some employers are not necessarily willing to put out the time and resources it takes to train someone who they know is going to be leaving their workplace to go back to school in a matter of months, if not weeks.

Here’s another big one. Young workers have a hard time separating their social lives out from their jobs.  Anyone with a teenaged child knows how connected they are to their devices, but the issue doesn’t stop there.  We see how comfortable they are multitasking even when they’re watching TV. TV programmers, aware that young people are on their hand held devices while watching shows,  are now creating digital content for them to interact with while shows are in progress.  This ability to focus halfheartedly while their minds are elsewhere can become ingrained.  It’s one thing to get your phone taken away from you in school. The stakes are much higher in the workplace where an equivalent distraction could result in serious injury.

They do not understand the workplace interpersonal dynamic. Again, this is a function of experience. They may not know what to do if they are being treated unfairly, are harassed or asked to do something that they instinctively know is dangerous.  Even if they do know, they may feel too intimidated to go through the proper channels for fear of retribution or the possibility of losing a job which was difficult to come by.

While this is just a partial list of reasons why young workers are being injured or worse, there is much that you can do as a parent or adult influencer in their lives.

First off, is to get a sense of what it is that they face at work every day – an overall lay of the land. You can do this by simply engaging them in conversation about their workdays; what it is they do, what kind of machinery is involved, etc.  You can also seek out sources like bringsafetyhome.com which has specific areas that offer a sense of what the hazards are in different common young worker workplaces.

Find out what kind of safety measures are utilized.  Do they have to wear personal protective equipment? Do the machines they may have mentioned have specific guarding?

And then there are the questions about behavior.  Is safety taken seriously at their workplace? Do their supervisors take it seriously? Do people take shortcuts at the expense of safety? Do their supervisors do this? Do they bother with personal protective equipment? It’s never a good sign when supervisors or others in positions of authority are lax about safety.

One important thing to remember:  If you want to have a productive dialogue that can have positive outcomes, resist the temptation to jump in with recrimination and treat your young worker like a child no matter what they tell you. It will only serve to shut the door on the conversation, not to mention future conversations and effectively remove the possibility of you being in a position of influence.  Withhold judgment until you get all the facts and even then choose your words very carefully.

Take a solutions based approach to helping your young worker find ways to successfully resolve hazard concerns. Give them examples of how they can approach their supervisors to discuss issues that are bothering them.  Remind them that their Joint Health and Safety Committee representative is specifically there to advocate for them and will be approachable. They need to be reminded of their rights as workers and to feel confident that the system will work in their favor. And if worse comes to worst and their workplace cares that little about their wellbeing,  no job is worth risking their life for. They should also know that more often than not, the system will work in their favour and that successful resolutions are very possible.

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