Younger Workers: Willing to Please Even If It Hurts

School is out and kids are looking for work. Approximately 2.3 million will get a job this summer in the U.S. and 157,000 of them will get more than just a pay check—they’ll get hurt on the job too. Lacerations, burns and broken bones are just some of the common injuries young workers sustain summer after summer.

Even though out-of-school students fill a much-needed gap in the workforce, employers need to be aware that this age group is at higher risk for work-related injuries because of their unique biological and social characteristics:

  • Teenagers are known to do tasks they haven’t been trained to do. 
  • Many lack physical and emotional maturity to assess risk.
  • They may not know which work tasks are prohibited by child labor laws.
  • Young people are more susceptible to chemical exposures.

Right about now you’re probably wondering if you can prevent a young worker from getting hurt at your business. As with any worker, no matter what the age, the answer is always yes through proper training, supervision and clear safety rules.

The first thing to consider is their experience. 

  • Break them in. For example, if they have never spent the better part of a day painting from a ladder, you can lessen their risk by teaching them how to setup a ladder, pointing out overhead electrical lines and explaining why working on a sunny side is more hazardous due to higher work area temperatures and exposure to UV rays.
  • Beware of the over-confident returning worker. If the employee is experienced, then their break in time is shorter, but beware that this can create complacency. 
  • Be a safety coach. The only way to know if your young worker is working safely is to watch them work and coach as needed.  All too often this “safety coaching" is not done and I liken it to a two-legged stool—it might work for awhile but not for long.

Once the young worker shows proficiency, your supervisory role is not over. 

  • Be on the lookout for shortcuts. Even though they may be employed for only a few months, some workers may go out of their way to please you by skipping a safety step for the sake of productivity.
  • Monitor performance in 3 areas. If your worker is held accountable only for quality and productivity but not safety, you are back to the two-legged stool. Decrease exposure by reinforcing your expectations and hold them accountable.

Clear safety rules
One last thing to be aware of is how impressionable younger workers can be. 

  • Practice what you preach. If the rule is to have a blade guard in place on a meat slicer, then it must be applied across the board to all workers. If a 5-year veteran, or worse a supervisor, removes it--what kind of message does that send?  Putting oneself in danger just got a little bit easier.