How Safe is Your Teen’s Summer Job?

Help your teens learn how to work safely. They may not learn it on the job.

How-Safe-is-Your-Teen's

Photo: Jason Jackson

 

So, school’s almost finished and your kids are about to start their summer jobs. How do you help them prepare?

Here’s something critical that you can do: help them learn how to work safely. They may not learn it on the job.

Just look at these statistics: in 2008, 29,000 Ontario youth ages 15 to 24 sustained an injury on the job, but were able to continue working. Another 10,000 sustained a lost-time injury; six were injured so severely they died.
The reality is young workers are more likely than any other age group to be injured at work. Furthermore, workers in their first four weeks on a job are up to four times more likely to be injured than at any other time.

While a number of these injuries occur in high-risk settings, such as construction, mining, and forestry, injuries can also occur in what most of us would consider safe environments, such as grocery stores, fast food chains, retail outlets, even offices. While the law requires workplaces to prevent or control hazardous working conditions, some workplaces may not be as diligent as others. The bottom line: never make assumptions about how safe a workplace is.

You may not be able to watch over your kids while they’re at work, but you can help them protect themselves. We spoke with Christy Sneddon, a parent and health and safety professional who, on behalf of the Ontario Service Safety Alliance, (www.ossa.com) has developed training material for young and new workers, and Hervé Le lagadec, a parent and the manager of Health, Safety & Environment for SGS Canada Inc. in Lakefield, ON. They offer the following suggestions.

Teach safety to everyone at home

The goal is for all family members, including children, to integrate safety into everything they do. We’re surrounded by potential hazards: cuts, burns, scrapes, electrical shock, and slips, trips, and falls. So, teach everyone to consider safety hazards before taking on a task, and act accordingly. It’s simpler than it sounds. “For instance,” says Hervé Le lagadec, “no cutting the lawn while wearing flip-flops.” When explaining how to do something safely, include the “why” factor. As in, why we have to unplug the toaster before digging out the bagel.

Ease safety into everyday conversations

“The problem with any parent/teen conversation,” says Christy Sneddon, “is that for most parents you’re the last person your teenager is going to listen to.” So, toss the “you should” approach and instead share stories and experiences.

At the same time, encourage analytical thinking. “When something happens, however minor, ask questions,” suggests Sneddon, such as, ‘What did you learn from that?’ ‘What could you do differently next time? How could you avoid that in the future?’

Become a walking safety poster

Always demonstrate safe behaviour, even if you think no one’s watching. “Parents must lead by example,” says Le lagadec. “Kids automatically mimic what they see at home, and I can tell that a lot of parents don’t follow the rules. I hear this from our summer students: ‘My dad does this all the time…’”

Introduce your teen to safety basics before work starts

For example: his or her health and safety rights. Workers have three rights:

  • to refuse work they believe to be unsafe
  • to know about hazards in the workplace
  • to participate in keeping the workplace healthy and safe.

They also have responsibilities:

  • always practise safe work procedures ∂ report unsafe conditions as soon as possible to the boss
  • properly wear any protective equipment the job requires
  • don’t do anything on the job that will endanger themselves or others (i.e., no horsing around)

Learning the basics is easy through such online resources as the Ministry of Labour and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board websites, as well as the Passport to Safety program (see “Safety Resources”). Program participants take an online awareness “test.” Successful participants receive a transcript, which they can attach to job applications, demonstrating their awareness of basic health and safety principles. This national program even has a local connection: it was first pioneered by the Peterborough Safe Communities Coalition. Take the test yourself, or review parent guidelines, so that you and your teen will have common ground for safety conversations.

Pierce your teenager’s perceived invulnerability

Who can blame teens for thinking bad things won’t happen to them? They rarely do. However, the exceptions can open even the most over-confident teenager’s eyes. With your teen, visit the LifeQuilt website (www.youngworkerquilt.ca/). The LifeQuilt is a 3 x 6 metre tapestry that commemorates the thousands of young workers across Canada who are injured every year. One hundred of their stories have been captured in the quilt and on the website.

Be aware of how workplaces can fall short

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour is so concerned about young worker safety that it has launched a four-month inspection blitz, targeting workplaces likely to hire summer workers. At the top of the inspectors’ list: safety orientation training.

The quality of orientation training is a good indicator of the workplace’s commitment to safety. “A new worker should never be expected to do a job without someone explaining what the hazards are and how to do it safely,” says Le lagadec.

The purpose of orientation training is to safely integrate new workers into the organization so that they can become contributing members of the work team. Making new workers aware of job hazards and how they are controlled helps to reduce the risk of injury. However, statistics show that only 40% of young workers receive health and safety training before starting their job or within their first week of work.

Safety supervision is another issue. “People who have been working for years don’t always remember what it’s like to start a new job,” says Christy Sneddon. “A supervisor might say, ‘Go over there and do that,’ without having thought through whether the worker will know how to do that safely. All the supervisor may know is, ‘Everyone else can do it.’”

Take control of the situation by asking your teen questions after the first day at work (see next section).

Probe

Your teen may receive lots of safety training at work, but you won’t know unless you do a little digging. After the first day at work, start a conversation about the job and about the safety training. Here are some points to cover:

? Was there any orientation training?
? Did anyone talk to you about safety?
? Did someone show you where the emergency exit is?
? Do you have to wear safety equipment? What were you doing?
? Does your boss encourage people to ask questions, or report hazards when they find them?
? Do coworkers seem to follow safety rules and wear safety equipment?
? Does anyone ever ask you to take shortcuts? (This could indicate how seriously a workplace takes safety. Doing something faster may mean doing it less safely. “Shortcuts can bite you in the butt,” warns Le lagadec.)
If you’re troubled by any of your teen’s responses, review workers’ rights and responsibilities together.

Remind your teen that it’s okay to…

… ask questions. Many new workers are afraid to admit they don’t understand, or can’t remember, what they’ve been told. But no one expects them to know everything right from the beginning. If new workers pretend they do, they’re putting themselves and their co-workers at risk.
… say no. Many kids think they could be fired for refusing to do something they truly believe is unsafe, says Sneddon. Not so. The law prevents employers from firing anyone in this circumstance, and instead requires them to conduct a thorough safety assessment. Sneddon advises that, if you’re afraid to do something, there may be a good reason for it. Your fear may be based on misinformation, lack of information, inexperience, or real danger. “Don’t assume you have no choice in the matter,” says Sneddon. “Speak up.”

It all comes down to this: if your child finds a job in a safe workplace, then your efforts to keep him or her safe will reinforce the safety messages conveyed at work. If the workplace isn’t as safe as it could be, then your efforts could help prevent an injury.

If your teen appears indifferent to your efforts, says Christy Sneddon, don’t be discouraged. “Kids actually hear and act on more of what we say than they may want us to believe.”

 

Safety Resources

Passport to Safety, an online program operating on a not-for-profit basis that builds and tests young workers’ safety awareness. Among the topics: supervisor and employer responsibilities, workers’ rights and responsibilities, WHMIS, the basics, common workplace hazards and controlling workplace hazards. For $10.50, participants can take the test and receive a lifetime membership, access to all Passport to Safety resources, and a Passport to 
Safety wallet card. Available in English and French; 
www.passporttosafety.com

 

Talking to Teens about Safety at Work: A Guide for Parents, a free, 20-page download published by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), which manages Ontario’s workers’ compensation system and promotes workplace health and safety. The guide covers employer, supervisor and worker rights, as well as questions to ask your teen; www.prevent-it.ca/files/ParentsGuide.pdf

 

Graphic dramatizations of workplace incidents, also from the WSIB; originally shown as TV commercials; www.prevent-it.ca/index.php?q=top-10-most-downloaded-items

 

Worksmart Ontario, a Ministry of Labour website for young workers. Includes info on refusing unsafe work, conditions under which you can refuse, and how to go about it; www.worksmartontario.gov.on.ca/scripts/default.asp

 

Young Worker LifeQuilt, a memorial tapestry that draws on the stories of 100 young workers to deliver a profound safety message; www.youngworkerquilt.ca

Author: Scott Williams

Scott Williams is a freelance writer and editor who spends way too much time in the tool sections of hardware stores.

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