Hiring Young Workers and Keeping Them Safe

The Department of Labor estimates that millions of young people under the age of 24 are likely to join the labor force this summer. Some will find their first part-time job while others will land something more permanent. Young workers are a highly valuable part of the workforce, and can make significant contributions to the health and productivity of their workplaces.

It’s important to remember that young, inexperienced workers are twice as likely to be injured on the job as their more experienced co-workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year more than 50,000 youth are so badly injured at work that they need emergency medical treatment. And that figure doesn’t include the numerous cuts, bruises, and strains that don’t require a trip to the hospital.

Why are these figures so high? Most experts point to inexperience and a lack of thorough job training. “It’s pretty well established that inexperience can lead to injury,” said Karl Siegfried, Assistant Vice President for Loss Control and Safety from workers’ compensation insurer MEMIC. “Too often young workers want to impress their new boss and try to show that they can do things that they have never done before. That’s where trouble can start. The good news is that there are proven ways to avoid the injuries that can result from inexperience.”

Siegfried said that formal on-the-job training is among the best ways to learn about job hazards as well as the safest methods for accomplishing the work. Most problems can be addressed by answering a few simple questions for your new employees before they get started:

  1. What are the hazards of their job? It’s tough to keep yourself safe if you don’t know what you should be keeping yourself safe from. Inexperienced workers will be better able to manage hazards once they fully understand them.
  2. How much job safety training will they have? Employers are required by law to provide job hazard training that’s easy to follow. Remember, a more thorough explanation is always worth the extra few minutes.
  3. Will they need to use safety gear, and if so, how? Employers may also be required by law to provide protective gear at no cost to their employees. Whether that means safety glasses, ear plugs, or something else, make sure you discuss proper procedure. What may seem like common sense to seasoned employees may be intimidating for teens starting their first jobs!
  4.  If they have health and safety concerns, who do they ask? Whether it’s their supervisor or a designated workplace safety coordinator, it’s critical for new employees to know that there’s someone who can knowledgeably address their concerns. Creating an environment open to questions and conversation can help to mitigate embarrassment or hesitation on the part of inexperienced workers.
  5. What do they do in an emergency? Be sure to review your workplace’s emergency protocol. Where is the nearest fire exit to their workstation? Do they have a designated meeting spot once they’re out of immediate danger? By holding emergency drills, you can identify any uncertainty about exit protocol.
  6. What do they do if they get hurt at work? Let young workers know how important it is to report any injury they might sustain in the workplace. Unfamiliarity with the workers compensation process could lead to hazardous and costly delays in reporting.

More than anything, employers should remain mindful of the relative inexperience of young workers, which can be alleviated by thorough training and proper supervision. As your partner in workplace safety, MEMIC is committed to creating a work environment that’s healthy and accessible for every employee, no matter their age or level of experience. With these questions, employers can build a foundation of safety knowledge that helps to reinforce everyday well being.