Safety awareness programs have been in place in British Columbia high schools for the last decade and young people have a good understanding of safety culture, said WorkSafeBC senior manager Trudi Rondou.
“But they don’t feel they can speak up for a number of reasons. They want to do well at their jobs, be liked, or keep their job,” Rondou said.
Jack Thomas is a young worker who was injured on the job and is now assisting with the WorkSafeBC campaign to raise awareness among his peer group. Thomas was injured in 2015 at age 17 when, after just two months on the job, his sleeve was caught in a conveyor belt and he lost half of his right arm.
“It was a summer job. I didn’t think at all about making my own safety a priority. It just wasn’t on my mind,” Thomas said in a WorkSafeBC release.
Thomas added he hopes telling his story will encourage young workers to think about possible hazards in their workplaces and voice their concerns.
The injury rate among younger workers, which WorkSafeBC defines as anyone under 25, is not substantially different than the rest of the population. But injury rates for younger men in the construction industry are substantially higher, Rondou said.
“Injury amongst young males in construction often occur at a higher frequency because they’re doing higher risk jobs and in many cases there’s a lack of safety orientation,” she said.
According to a 2007 Smith and Mustard summary study, based on surveys done in 1999, 2001 and 2003, only one in five employees had received safety training while with their current employer.
The most common incidents in construction for young workers include being struck by an object, overexertion and falls from heights, Rondou added.
There is also a popular misconception that young people are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, she said.
“Injuries aren’t caused by personality traits. That’s a myth we want to get people away from,” she said.
While youth safety awareness is important, it’s equally important for employers to be aware of how to respond when a worker raises safety concerns, Rondou said.
“When young people raise concerns…what’s next?” Rondou asked.
WorkSafeBC’s response is a parallel program called What I Know Now for employers. The program, which began in June and runs through the rest of the summer, highlights employers such as Beedie Construction and Jacob Bros. Construction in videos reflecting on the safety lessons they learned as young workers.
“We targeted the summer workers because there are more workers doing riskier jobs during that period, particularly in construction,” Rondou said.
“Everyone plays a role in keeping young workers safe. It all starts with having conversations. If we have that, we can change the culture.”
Young employees can check out the campaign at WorkSafeBC.com/ListenToYourGut, which has safety tips and videos depicting workplace safety scenarios. Employers can click on WorkSafeBC.com/WhatIKnowNow, which hosts employer testimonial videos.