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How to Set the Right Example for Young Workers

Between 2014 and 2018 around 18 young workers were injured daily on the job in B.C. But, a proactive approach from employers is trying to turn the tide. It starts by setting the right example for young workers.

Work can be intimidating for young people, especially when they’re new to the job, or don’t have a lot of experience in the industry. They want to make a good first impression by showing their employers and co-workers that they know what they’re doing.

Without proper training and support, young workers are at risk of injury. Between 2014 and 2018, more than 34,000 workers aged 15 to 24 were hurt on the job in B.C. Eighteen of those individuals died.

That, quite simply, is unacceptable, says Trudi Rondou, WorkSafeBC senior manager, Industry and Labour Services. “So, together with employers, we’re encouraging young workers to trust their instincts, and, when they have safety concerns, to raise them with their employers. We also want to ensure they know their rights and responsibilities on the job.”

 “I Wish I Knew Then, What I Know Now”

Understanding rights and responsibilities, is something Clint Mahlman, executive vice president and chief operating officer for London Drugs Limited, takes to heart. Two near misses at a B.C. sawmill opened his eyes to the dangers of inadequate training on the job.

“It was a different time and place back in the early ’80s when I started to work. I wish I knew then what I know now about safety,” says Mahlman. “I just about lost my hand due to a crush injury working in a sawmill as a young maintenance worker, and saw one of my good friends nearly impaled by a hydraulic ram. Those two things really snapped my attention,” he adds. “We were never taught lockout procedures.”

Today, Mahlman considers training young workers a top priority at London Drugs. Since 21 percent of injuries in retail involved young workers in 2018, it’s a significant concern.

“It’s really important for young workers to talk about safety,” he says. “Speaking up to your employer is a very good thing, and quite honestly, if an employer doesn’t value that, you’re working for the wrong place.”

Working Towards Continuous Improvement and Innovation in Safety

Over in the construction industry, which employs 28,000 young workers in B.C. each year, the risk of serious injury is high. Six young people lost their lives to workplace incidents in this industry in the past five years.

Scott Jacob co-owner of Jacob Brothers Construction in Surrey, B.C., is determined not to see that happen at his workplace. And he believes that getting young workers to feel comfortable asking questions is key.

“It’s not enough to say safety matters. You have to demonstrate it,” he says. One of the ways they do that is through their innovative Green Hard Hat training program.

“The green hard hat identifies them as a new or a young worker,” says Jacob. “We think it makes it easier for young workers to ask for safety help, or receive safety suggestions, from the more experienced workers.” The hard hats are a reminder to not only ask questions but to really think about the risks before doing something.

Promoting a Safety Culture

At Beedie Construction in Burnaby, B.C., early training and orientation is part of the business model.

Eric Jensen, director, construction operations, at Beedie Construction, sees safety as a high priority. “In in our company it starts from the top,” he says. “It’s very much in the DNA of the Beedie’s themselves. They’re very proud of what they do and take a great deal of pride in doing it safely.”

Almost 20 percent of workplace accidents involving young workers occur during their first month on the job, so orientation is key, says Jensen.

“An initial orientation provides young workers with information about what we expect from them and how they expect to work. We then mentor them by providing them with an experienced work partner.” Young workers are also encouraged to ask questions, he adds.

Safety is Good for Business

Over in Kelowna, B.C., Central Kitchen + Bar has the proof that a safety mindset is good for business. They won Best Employer at the 2017 Small Business BC Awards. The hospitality industry employs around 71,000 young workers, with the most dangerous jobs falling to cooks, kitchen and food service helpers, and fast-food preparers.

“When people start in restaurants, they underestimate the risks of just working an everyday serving shift or bartending shift,” says co-owner Jared Lee. “We want to encourage staff to ask questions and not feel they’re being judged. It’s important that we create a space where they can really thrive, feel safe, and just be happy to work.”

Setting a Positive Example

“At the end of the day it’s our responsibility as owners to make sure we lead the charge for safety,” adds Lee. As an employer who started out as a young worker in the restaurant industry, he knows that setting a positive example is vital.

While employers in B.C. are required by law to train and supervise their workers and ensure their health and safety, Lee, Jacob, Mahlman, and Jensen all agree that health and safety is just the right thing to do. As Scott Jacob says, “When you care about your employees from a safety perspective, you’re telling them in the most sincere of ways that they matter and that what they do is important.”

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