As of 2013, workers younger than 24 years old represented 13% (18.1 million) of the workforce. These young workers are often more prone to injury than seasoned workers as a direct result of their youth. Because they are new to the workforce, they lack the experience to identify and avoid hazards, or realize the risk those hazards present. It’s possible young workers are not yet hardened to the rigors of being in the workplace, making them more susceptible to physical injury than more seasoned counterparts.
An average of 79,500 nonfatal injuries to young workers occurred each year between the years of 1998 and 2007. The treatment of occupational injuries at hospital injury departments for young workers is around twice the amount for all workers older than 25 years old. Roughly one in every 20 young workers aged 15-19 is injured at the workplace.
So how can we protect young workers?
The U.S. Public Health Department has taken steps by setting a goal of reducing occupational injury rates among teenage workers from 4.9 per 100 to 4.4 per 100 of full time workers by 2020.
How can these goals be met? Simple: the same way we prepare other workers, through training, awareness, and supervision.
It’s important to ensure young workers are aware of the hazards at the workplace. Once they know of the hazards, they can protect themselves from them or avoid them entirely. Young workers must be trained to identify hazards and use appropriate safety equipment. Due to their youth, however, they may possess a sense of invulnerability that makes them lax in their training and preparation—a sense that is tragically shattered the first time they receive a workplace injury. As a result, young workers should be rigorously supervised to ensure they are working safely.
Workers at restaurants should know the dangers of wet floors, hot grease, and the mechanical hazards of equipment in the workplace. Workers at loading docks should be aware of safe lifting techniques, dock hazards such as caught-in or -between, as well as the benefits of good housekeeping. Each workplace will have its own particular dangers that need to be taught and protected against.
Young workers present a unique problem borne out of inexperience and hubris. But an effective training program that focuses on hazards, awareness, and preparedness, coupled with a sufficient amount of supervision, can prepare young workers for the dangers they face in the workplace and allow them to function safely while at the job.