Imagine, for a moment, being unfamiliar with the environment you find yourself in, with new people, processes, systems and machinery all around. You have a strong drive to prove yourself and show that you know what you are doing, even if you don’t. This can be the frame of mind of a young person starting out in the world of work.
One has only to look at the numbers of injuries and deaths at work in Europe and beyond to understand just how important Health and Safety (H&S) is in the modern workplace. Of major concern is the prevalence of accident, injury and death involving young people (15-24 year olds) at their place of work. The agricultural sector has the highest incidence rate of fatal accidents among young workers, followed by construction and transport and communication (EU-OSHA).
Young people therefore need special attention when developing safety policy and in methods of implementation.
Young people are vulnerable in the workplace
The risks to young people at work vary depending on role, sector and environment, but they are particularly at risk due to their lack of experience and stage of physical and mental development. These factors mean that they may not be able to do some jobs and may be unaware of the risks associated with the activities they are asked to carry out.
EU-OSHA report that in Europe, 18 to 24-year-olds are at least 50% more likely to be hurt at work than older people and that young people are also more likely to suffer from an occupational illness. These observations show clearly that there is an issue around the safety of the young at work and that special consideration should be given by managers to the well-being of younger employees.
Young workers need special attention
It is known that young people can have issues at work with their capacity to adjust to their new surroundings and the expectations placed on them. In the modern workplace production activity may be a challenge, especially in mechanised and fast paced environments. Physical and mental capability may be less than managers expect. Young workers are also more likely to take risks.
These elements become very important where inherently dangerous substances or processes are used. If young people are involved in tasks where PPE is required then special care should be taken during the training process and close monitoring of individuals carried out to ensure protection is optimised.
Giving special attention to young workers not only keeps them safer, but helps generate a safety awareness that they can then take forward in their future careers.
Early engagement is vital
On-site engagement with workers begins with the induction process. Sufficient management time should be allocated to the process so that a worker’s first experience of engagement in their new place of work is positive and safety focused. This is particularly important where young people are concerned as a well thought-out induction experience will imprint the positive aspects of keeping safe in the workplace – young people are impressionable. A documented and thorough risk assessment should already be in place.
A risk assessment should be undertaken with young people in mind. The HSE is clear on their advice: Before employing a young person, a health and safety risk assessment must take these specific factors into account:
- The fitting-out and layout of the workplace and the particular site where they will work;
- The nature of any physical, biological and chemical agents they will be exposed to, for how long and to what extent;
- What types of work equipment will be used and how this will be handled;
- How the work and processes involved are organised;
- Level of health and safety training given to young people
- Risks from the particular agents, processes and work.
The risk assessment should focus on critical tasks which rely on skill, experience and an understanding of the task requirements. Take account of the physique and general health, age and experience of the young person in your assessment.
The induction process should lay the foundations of understanding that safety at work is the responsibility of the employer and the employee. When young people are involved, take extra care to explain this joint responsibility and the common risks in your workplace. Use short sessions with clear and concise language:
- Ensure your induction process includes a focus on the actual risks in your workplace
- Draw attention to the signage on the shop floor
- Point out the common pitfalls and how to avoid them
- Actively discourage risk-taking
- Be open about the accidents and near misses that have occurred in the past
- Focus on the need to wear appropriate, well-fitting and serviceable PPE at all times
- Encourage questions during the induction sessions
- Assign a named supervisor to be available for questions and support
- Encourage young people to communicate with the supervisor and team members
- Educate the workforce on the needs of young workers
- Underline that workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility
Good quality and appropriate training is fundamental to safety at work and is crucial for young workers as they build their knowledge base, both from the technical, and safety points of view:
- Consider a “Buddy” system of on-the-job familiarisation and support to augment technical training, particularly in the first year of a young person’s employment
- Consider implementing a mentoring structure for supporting and developing young workers
- Plan on-going training programmes to educate and refresh knowledge
Every workplace is different, as are individual workers. Young workers need special attention when allocating work:
- Bear in mind that young workers are vulnerable in the workplace, and allocate work in accordance with individual capability
- They may lack concentration and find it difficult to make decisions
- They may become more tired than other workers
- High-risk activities should be avoided e.g. work with dangerous chemicals or heavy machinery
- Effective supervision is crucial, especially in the early days of employment
- Consider implementing an employee health and wellbeing programme
- Demonstrate that senior people in the organisation are interested in the welfare of workers by encouraging managers to become actively involved in the communication process
These approaches will help young people feel included and avoid risks in the critical early stages of their working lives.
The need for management-led engagement
Bearing in mind the lack of experience and capacity limitations of young people, it is important that managers lead from the front when it comes to safety. Young workers can be less willing to speak up about issues they are facing and this is quite natural. Experienced managers and supervisors can help develop open lines of communication with young people, and encourage two-way dialogue especially on safety matters.
Engagement needs to be worked on in order to develop. The initiative lies with leader-managers and supervisors to get close to the team, especially the younger workers.
Due to their lack of experience of the workplace and the tendency of young people to be reticent about speaking up regarding risks, it is incumbent on business owners and managers to take the lead with young workers when it comes to instilling a positive and inclusive safety culture in the workplace that takes account of the particular vulnerabilities of young workers.
From first induction, through training and development, young workers need support from managers and supervisors so that they can adjust to the pace and dangers of the workplace. This calls for leadership from senior people in an organisation in terms of the allocation of appropriate resources as well as direct involvement in support of young workers.
Real and lasting management engagement with workers needs to be initiated and led by management. By paying special attention to young workers they are kept safer and are given a positive view of occupational health and safety.
Contains information published by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).
Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.
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