February 3, 2004

Workplace safety: the moral mandate of protecting young workers

Candace Carnahan lost her leg to a conveyor belt when she was 21 years old while working at a Canadian paper mill. She's thankful to be alive - if a co-worker hadn't heard her screams, she would have been pulled into the machine to her death. She now devotes her time to bringing the workplace safety message to the 18 to 24 year old age group. In this mission, she's teamed up with Paul Kells who lost his 19 year old boy to a horrific on-the-job gasoline fire.

This article moved me for several reasons. First, because many of us in the industry talk about safety and claims every day, but there is nothing quite like a first person account to drive home the horror that can lie behind those words. And yet serious workplace injuries and deaths are events that happen daily. And these are events that not only claim life or limb, but that haunt the affected families and co-workers for a lifetime...how can you ever feel good or safe about your job again when you watch a worker die beside you? And if you are a supervisor or manager on that shift, how can you ever assuage the guilt?

Second, this article hit on a topic that is near to my heart - keeping kids safe at work. I'm thinking of those nieces and nephews of mine who are embarking on their first new jobs...they aren't alone. Every year, legions of green, callow kids begin work in the kitchens of our fast food restaurants, on our factory floors and behind the counters of our retail shops...and just about every two minutes, one of them is injured on the job. Protecting young workers is a moral mandate that we all need to embrace.

Training is paramount. What may be obvious to an adult may not be obvious to a teen. Employers need to be explicit about job hazards and the things that could go wrong, to explain safety policies and procedures, and to ensure that these policies are enforced. Supervisors and managers should also be trained to focus special attention on the safety of young workers.

Think back to your teen years and your first job...remember that false sense of invincibility you had? Remember peer pressure? Remember how you hated to look dumb or ask for help? Eager to prove themselves on a first job, kids may not want to admit they don't know how to do something. Young workers often don't have the stamina, the work hardening, the judgment, or the experience that older workers have. Employers might do well to buddy young workers up with an older safety mentor.

Learn more about what you can do to keep our kids safe at work.

CDC's Young Worker Safety and Health
Health and Safety Awareness for Working Teens
DOL Youth Rules
Passport to Safety

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1 Comment

More resources on health and safety for young people at NYCOSH here and here.

Also at the Labor Occupational Health Program at Berkeley

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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on February 3, 2004 8:58 AM.

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