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Jul 2016

Young workers are higher occupational safety risk. Keep them safe


Older worker standing next to younger worker

Look around your workplace: what is the basic difference you notice between experienced veterans, and inexperienced employees? Age. Oftentimes, there is a positive correlation between age and experience level. Typically, the older workers are more familiar with the job, while young workers are more green. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) there were roughly 18 million youth workers in the United States during 2013. These employees, aged 24 years and younger, are injured twice as often as employees who are at least 25 years old. The NIOSH found that, on average, nearly 400 workers under the age of 24 are killed every year; 70 of those are teenagers. So why are young workers at risk? And how do we protect them?

Why young workers are at risk

There are a number of factors that account for the heightened risks faced by young workers. Young workers are often working in environments with high rates of occupational injury. As a result, young workers face many kinds of hazards. The NIOSH mentions restaurants as one such occupation due to slippery floors, kitchen knives, hot stoves, and other hazards. In fact, the NIOSH found that nearly 50% of all workers age 15-17 work in the leisure and hospitality industry, with retail jobs accounting for the second largest group. Overall, there are approximately 2 million workers ages 15 to 17 years old in the United States.

Young workers are more likely to be involved in physical labor in many different types of jobs. Physical labor presents the chance for musculoskeletal injuries (lower back pain, shoulder pain), and can effect even young, able-bodied workers. Reducing these types of injuries can be accomplished through proper training and education of workers. 

Inexperience is another crucial component contributing to the hazards young workers face. Many young workers may make errors that an older worker would not. Inexperience can result in recklessness and carelessness that could cause accidents.

How can we reduce hazards for young workers?

Reducing hazards for young workers starts with one thing: awareness. Employers need to be aware of the risks their young workers face. In turn, young workers need to be aware of the challenges presented to them in the workplace. When employers have identified the specific risks their young workers face in their work environment, then actions need to be taken to address those risks.

The best way to combat youthful inexperience is by ramping up training measures. Employers need to provide training that is specific to the job in question. There are training materials available to help employers instill effective job-specific skills and knowledge in young workers.  Increasing and improving training will help combat the inexperience of young workers. Employers should assign young workers an appropriate amount of time in a training position. Additionally, young workers should have an experience adult mentor them on the functions of the job in question. Do not expect young workers to reach out. There must be avenues available to them for learning and growing comfortable in the work environment.

Employers should always be up to date on the laws and regulations regarding young workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has regulations in place to protect young workers. There are child labor laws in place that restrict the amount of time young workers can log at work, the types of equipment they can use, and other job-specific regulations. In order for employers to effectively protect young workers, they must understand and comply with all federal and state regulations.

It is absolutely imperative that employers foster an atmosphere that encourages questions. Employers should remain approachable and open to helping young workers. A young worker may not know if it is appropriate to ask questions, or may be too embarrassed to do so. Employers and supervisors should reach out specifically to young workers (or assign someone to do so), and make sure there are no lingering concerns. Ultimately, the work atmosphere should be one in which learning is encouraged and not seen as a burden.

There is nothing more important than for a young person to learn how to work hard. If you have young workers in your job environment, then make sure they are learning to perform their duties safely. Do not let inexperience, recklessness, or carelessness dictate a young workers fate. Employers need to step in and make sure young workers can safely work hard, and have the tools they need to succeed.

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