Recognizing that Your Working Child May Be at Risk on the Job

“I should have recognized the warning signs.”

“Why didn’t she mention anything about it?”

“It seemed like they were doing fine.”

These are the words out of the mouths of parents in the aftermath of workplace incidences involving their children. Unfortunately, these words are spoken after the fact and usually in very sad circumstances and in places like hospital hallways while their children are being treated for injuries suffered on the job.

The question is,’ how can we gain insight into how safe our children are at work?’

The simple answer is ‘by getting the right information.’ And the way to get that is by asking the right questions. While in a perfect world, we could just ask, ‘is your workplace safe?’ it usually isn’t that easy. The process requires patience and a more roundabout approach or you might just get a flat out ‘yes’ and quick end to the conversation. Getting the right information can require a patience game, especially if the workplace hazard is psychosocial. Psychosocial hazards are those that involve stress, bullying and other forms of harassment. Young people may be more reluctant about discussing these areas since they may feel embarrassed about sharing certain details.

Consider starting the conversation with bigger picture questions – ask them about the work environment. Then drill down deeper and ask about the people with whom they work. Are there any unusual characters? Are there any people who make others feel uncomfortable? By depersonalizing it, they may feel more comfortable about sharing details. If you sense there is more than meets the eye and that there may be information they are not disclosing, don’t push too hard. Remind them of their rights as workers, including the right to refuse unsafe work.

If it turns out there are issues that they are struggling with, encourage them to take action; to speak to their joint health and safety representative, if their workplace has one; to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work; to contact the Ministry of Labour if they are unsure of how to deal with an issue. The system does work and they have to take advantage of the protection it offers. Along with all that, it is important they believe you truly have their back and an ongoing offer of support as they navigate through any challenges.

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