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Tips for getting safety messages across to young workers this summer

How can you ensure the health and safety information you provide in your orientation and training sticks with young employees?
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Young workers are enthusiastic, productive, versatile, and eager to learn, making them a great asset to your business during the hectic summer months. But teens are also inexperienced and unfamiliar with health and safety, putting them at a higher risk for injury. In fact, they are three times more likely to experience an injury during their first month on the job. 

The service sector employs almost 80% Canada’s workforce and most often is the starting point for a young person’s employment journey. As such, this is where the majority of young worker injuries occur.

As an employer, it’s your job to keep your young workers safe. “When teenagers start their first job, they are pre-occupied, excited for their first paycheque," says Pam Patry. “And at that age, they may not feel comfortable speaking up if they see something unsafe; may act before thinking of long-term consequences; or believe they are immune to harm.” It makes having a robust orientation and training program that more important. 

“An accident involving a young person takes a huge toll,” says Patry. “Following an incident, the worker, their co-workers, community, and family are all affected. As for your business—your WSIB premiums could go through the roof,” warns Pam. While they make up only 13% of the workforce, young workers account for 16% of Workplace Safety and Insurance Board lost-time injury claims.

In addition, a workplace injury could mean a Ministry inspector could visit and issue orders or fines, and your reputation could be damaged, adding to staffing issues already being felt across the province.

So how can you ensure the health and safety information you provide in your orientation and training sticks with young employees? Follow these tips for delivering your messages in a way that considers the unique traits of teens.

14 tips to help young workers retain health and safety information
  1. Ensure your orientation and training are thorough. When it comes to orientation and training programs, remember it’s not enough to give young workers policies to read and say, ‘I’ll come back in two hours and then you can start your job.’ Young workers may not understand or absorb the material. 

  2. Send HR-related paperwork to young workers ahead of time. “The amount of information a new employee needs to absorb during orientation can be overwhelming,” says Pam. Choosing for them to do this task at home takes some things off their plate and will help shorten their training day. It also allows them to review the documents with their parents/caregivers if needed.

  3. Reduce anxieties at the start of training. “Emotions are heightened when a young person begins their first job and anxiety can affect their ability to actively listen,” warns Pam. Keep things light before launching into the material. Introduce yourself and provide a quick personal anecdote. Then ask others in the room to do the same. “This approach will not only help on training day but also in the future. If you’ve taken the time to build a repour with them, they will be more comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns later.”

  4. Put health and safety first on the agenda during orientation. “Orientation can take hours. It’s best to convey health and safety information when brains are not bogged down with a lot of other information,” advises Pam.

While workers are required to take online Health and Safety Awareness Training, this is not a substitute for proper orientation and training. Orientation should cover legislated responsibilities, including the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), duties of supervisors, workers and employers, the Internal Responsibility System (IRS), workers’ rights and the unique hazards of the workplace. “One thing that is often missed is worksite specific training – make sure you are training your workers on the safety hazards and controls specific to your worksite.”

  1. Schedule breaks during the training. Providing breaks allows learners to regain focus and keep their brains fresh in the new learning environment.

  2. Set the tone during orientation. Reinforce your company’s health and safety culture, and your expectation that every employee will work safely, follow procedures, and report hazards.  

    “Also address a young workers’ beliefs and insecurities,” says Pam. “For example: ’We don’t expect you to be superheroes – we understand that you are not going to be perfect right out of the gate and expect and encourage you to ask questions if you are not sure of something.’” This will help prevent young workers from trying to figure things out on their own, which can lead to incidents and injuries.

  3. Don’t use acronyms or jargon. “While acronyms can be useful once you know the subject matter, to someone new to health and safety, terms like WHMIS and IRS can be intimidating and confusing,” explains Pam. Use the full name the first few times: Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, and Internal Responsibility System, etc. Also define unclear terms, such as ‘centre of gravity’, in forklift training.

  4. Explain the consequences of not following safety rules. “Be very clear about what could happen,” says Pam. “For example, ‘If you take a guard off of a machine without proper safety precautions, you could become entangled and possibly lose a finger or an arm.’” They need to know that missteps can be serious. 

  5. Ask questions. “During training, asking young workers questions – such as ‘where in the facility do you think this issue might come up?’ – will help them make vital connections,” says Pam. It might take them a while to answer, so be patient. And, if nobody answers your question, you may have just discovered a gap in your training, prompting you to review the information again in a different way.

  6. Use common analogies to make complicated topics more relatable. For example, while providing instruction on the Internal Responsibility System (IRS), Pam suggests asking young workers what their favourite sport is. “Take that sport and go through everybody’s role on the team to illustrate the concept that everybody plays a role in making the team successful. Then apply that analogy to the roles of worker, supervisor and employer in the IRS.”

  7. Verify that learning has taken place. Quizzes, true or false questions, or contests can be used after training sessions to confirm learning; however, Pam suggests the best way to show an understanding of how to do a job safely is to have them demonstrate it.

  8. Pair each new employee with an experienced one. Whether you call the person assisting your young worker a mentor, a buddy, or a coach, choose someone who is competent and has a track record of following safety rules. “Young workers may be shy and uncertain, forget what they've learned, and work more slowly. Ensure you pair them with someone who is not only knowledgeable but also has good people skills and is patient,” advises Pam.

  9. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Young workers' lives are full of distractions, and their concentration skills may not be fully developed. Repeat health and safety messages frequently in different ways, using different tools, to ensure understanding and expectations.

  10. Make sure you have safety policies and programs in place before hiring young workers. Enforce your workplace policies and follow up on concerns in your workplace ahead of hiring young workers. “This will set the tone of a good safety culture,” says Pam. “Young workers will look to their coworkers for guidance. You don’t want them observing unsafe behaviours and believe the behaviour is normal or acceptable.”
First Job, Safe Job: Helping parents keep kids safe at work

First Job, Safe Job is a blog created by WSPS for parents and caregivers to access practical safety information and resources they can share with teens and young adults they care about. It provides parents with creative ways to pass on important messages and tips to their kids in conversations that matter.

Have health and safety questions? Please contact Denise Lam, WSPS Account Manager, Small Business at [email protected].

The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.

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