According to a recent report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, young employees -- defined as those aged 15-24 years old -- are two times more likely to suffer a nonfatal injury than their older coworkers. The agency's Morbidity
and Mortality Weekly Report summarized the findings of an analysis of workplace injuries among young people from 1998-2007. The rate of nonfatal injuries among young workers declined 19 percent during that period. However, nearly 8 million young people were still treated for injuries. The highest nonfatal injury rates were experienced by workers aged 18 and 19 years, at 6.3 and 5.9 injuries per 100 full-time employees, respectively.
Contact with objects or equipment was the most common event for all age groups but accounted for a larger proportion of injuries among younger workers (49 percent) compared with older workers (40 percent). The contact injuries largely involved the worker being struck by or against, rubbed or abraded, or caught in or crushed by various tools, equipment, machinery, parts or materials.
The rate of fatalities for younger employees was also twofold higher than the rate for older workers. A total of 5,719 fatal injuries among younger workers occurred during the 1998-2007 study period. Younger Hispanic workers had a fatality rate of 5.6 deaths per 100,000 full-time employees, significantly higher than the rate for white and black workers. The greatest number of fatal injuries among younger workers occurred in the services (32 percent), construction (28 percent), wholesale and retail trade (10 percent), and agriculture (10 percent) industry sectors.
"Public health, labor, and trade organizations should provide guidance to employers to help them in their responsibilities to provide safer workplaces and should identify steps that employers can take to remove or reduce injury hazards," the report noted. "Employers need to ensure that their younger workers have the requisite training and personal protective equipment to perform their jobs safely."
Train managers, supervisors.
Researchers said a systematic review found consistent evidence that injuries among young workers were associated with increased hazards in their workplaces (e.g., use of ladders and knives), a perceived work overload (e.g., pressure to complete work more quickly), and minority status.
"Lack of job knowledge, training, and skills might contribute to increased risk among younger workers, who might be less likely to recognize hazards, less likely to speak up regarding safety, and less aware of their legal rights as workers," the report stated. "This might be exacerbated for some groups of workers, such as Hispanics and workers in their first jobs."
It is critical that employers train managers and supervisors on the hazards of job assignments for young workers and appropriate work practices to prevent injuries. According to health and safety experts, supervisors have the greatest opportunity to influence young employees and their work habits.
When working with young workers, employers should remember to:
- Show them how to use safety equipment. Don't place teen workers on complicated equipment without thoroughly explaining how to use it safely and why it is critical to the job. Make sure they know when to wear protective gear, where to find it, how to use it, and how to care for it.Have them demonstrate they understand the message. In addition, it is important for employers to provide a variety of equipment sizes for young workers. Teen employees may not be properly suited to adult-sized grips for hammers, drills and other equipment.
- Treat them differently than adult employees. Recognize that what might be obvious or common sense to an experienced employee might not be so clear to a young worker tackling a project for the first time. It is important to build that knowledge through hands-on training and on-the-job coaching by skilled staff.
- Perform routine checkups. Regular supervision can ensure that teens are using the safe practices they were trained to use. If you see a teen using unsafe behaviors, correct his actions and explain why it is important.
- Encourage questions. If a teen worker is unsure about a procedure, be sure to address it.
- Set consequences for failing to comply. Young workers should be aware of the penalties for failing to follow the company's health and safety rules.
- Have older employees serve as mentors. Coworkers can play a vital role in encouraging young workers to follow safety guidelines. Implement a mentoring or buddy system for new teen workers. Have either an adult or experienced teen help the inexperienced worker learn the job.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 8, 2010
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