Young workers keeping quiet about hazardous working conditions: Study

Youngest of the young most likely to be injured

Young workers need to voice concerns over safety at the workplace, says Nick Turner professor at the Haskayne School of Business.

A recent research study found about one-third of young workers — as young as 15 — have experienced at least one job-related injury in the last month while working part-time. Furthermore, young workers are not likely to know how to respond when faced with hazardous work situations.

Research study co-authors Sean Turner of the University of Regina and Kevin Kelloway of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax examined the self-reported frequency of non-lost work time injuries, or "micro-accidents," over a four-week period. They sampled more than 19,000 young workers in Canada.

"The difference between a micro-accident, with a young worker getting a treatable burn, and a young worker getting a more severe injury that would require hospitalization and may take them off work can all derive from the same event or set of conditions," said Turner.

Results showed the highest incidence of micro-accidents was among workers aged 15 to 18. Additionally, compared to their older counterparts, the group spoke up less frequently in the face of dangerous work and reported neglecting work safety rules more frequently.

While young males were more likely to speak up about dangerous work condition than young females, they were also more likely to neglect work safety rules.

Although safety procedures can be implemented, reaching out to and regulating work environments in which young people tend to work can be a challenge.

"Although work-related training for young workers is especially important, it is often complicated by informal work environments in which young people find themselves, such as babysitting or lawn-mowing, which nonetheless may contain hazardous work conditions, but are considered harmless," said Turner.

Young workers often work part-time, after school, during the summer in informal settings, which places them on the periphery of individuals and organizations.

"Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and co-workers can all help entrench the importance of work and attitudes of work in young workers, but when it comes to workplace safety, our research is showing it is the adult figure of influence in the workplace — the supervisor — who is the most important social influence,” said Tuner.

Further research is being conducted on the topic. The ongoing study, to be published in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research, is tracking young workers monthly over a course of a year to learn how their ongoing experience with work and on-the-job safety relates to supervisors’ behaviours, who set expectations early-on about the importance of safe work.

"Young workers with supervisors who show the young workers they care about safety are more inclined to speak up about dangerous work and this, in turn, seems to be related to lower workplace injuries," noted Turner.

Many surveys define young workers as those between 15 to 25 years old, which is a big age gap said Tuner.

"There are lots of things going on at different points along those 10 years — whether it's the accumulation of more work and life experience, or cognitive development in terms of physical risk-taking and judgment. A 15-year-old is very different from a 25-year-old."

More attention needs to be paid to the youngest of the young workers he added.

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