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Tips for training young workers

With the advent of summer, millions of young people enter the workforce, many without prior formal workforce experience. Statistics show that young workers are twice as likely to suffer an injury on a job that requires treatment than older, more experienced workers. According to the CDC, the injury rate for young workers is 5 emergency care-required injuries per 100 workers—approximately 2 times higher than the injury rate among older workers. Even more frightening, from 1998 to 2007, an average of 572 young workers, ages 15 to 24, die on the job yearly.

There are several factors that contribute to the high injury rate, including lack of experience, inability to recognize hazards, higher risk taking, inadequate training, lack of sufficient supervision and reluctance to speak up.

Here are six steps employers can take to reduce injuries to young workers:

  1. Identify risks and preventive measures unique to young workers
    The risk assessment should go beyond the identification of hazards and proper guarding of equipment. It should identify the tasks young people must NOT do, clearly identifying prohibitions on the use of specific equipment and specified work processes, restricted areas, and activities that can only be done under supervision.
  2. Provide special training and orientation
    It is essential that young people receive effective health and safety training before they start work, allocating sufficient time to:
    • specific hazards related to their job, including prohibitions and supervision requirements
    • common hazards in the workplace generally
    • what to do to protect themselves
    • what to do if they think something is unsafe
    • who to go to for advice
    • what to do in an emergency, if they have an accident, or if they need first aid
    • their responsibilities to respect and cooperate with the company‚Äôs safety policies
    After the training, have young workers demonstrate that they can perform assigned work tasks properly and safely. Seek feedback from young workers on the effectiveness of the training your company provides.
  3. Provide adequate, consistent supervision
    Supervisors should be adequately trained regarding risks and control measures connected with the work of young people, and made aware of any restrictions on the tasks young people can do. They need to understand their role, what is required of them, and how to carry out their duties. Many companies use a mentoring system, assigning an experienced person who has the ability to demonstrate and teach safe work behaviors to a younger, less experienced employee.
  4. Reinforce safety regularly
    Prior to the start of each workday, hold short safety meetings to discuss key safety issues.
  5. Encourage incident reporting
    Many young workers may be hesitant to report incidents to the organization out of lack of confidence, fear of disciplinary action or misunderstanding.
  6. Establish and enforce a drug-free workplace
    Abuse of alcohol and other drugs by workers of any age creates significant, but avoidable, workplace hazards. A written drug policy should be established with written communication to all employees.