April 28th is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This year’s theme is the safety and health of young workers, and the end of child labour.
As spring approaches, many Canadian teens and young adults are searching for summer or part-time jobs. Such jobs help our youth gain the skills, experience, and independence they need to transition into adulthood.
But these workers – ages 15 to 24 – are more vulnerable than adults to the occupational health and safety risks that result in injury, illness, and even death. Candace Carnahan is, unfortunately, a good example of someone that was injured at work when they were very young. I had the privilege of speaking at a conference where she was the keynote speaker, and I was both touched by her story and impressed by her courage.
Here are 5 reasons why young workers tend to be more vulnerable:
#1. Their physical and psychological stage of development.
Young workers might not recognize the severity of risk when they undertake unsafe work. They tend to lack the common sense that older workers have gained from years of experience and training.
#2. Lack of work experience.
Employees on their first jobs may not be able to identify and avoid workplace hazards.
#3. Lack of knowledge.
Young workers may not be aware that the Occupational Health and Safety Act exists, and that it’s in place to protect them. They may not know their rights and responsibilities or the responsibilities of their employers.
#4. Fear of Saying No.
Young workers may be more likely to accept perilous tasks or jobs with substandard working conditions.
#5. The type of work they undertake.
Young workers typically take on short-term work or multiple part-time jobs. As such, they are new on the job – and unfamiliar with the position, duties, and/or workplace – more often than those who are steadily employed.
Tips For Employees
#1. Learn about your rights. You are protected against workplace health and safety hazards and should be treated fairly. You have the right to refuse unsafe work and the right to know the health and safety hazards on the job. This applies whether you are a paid employee or an unpaid co-op student.
#2. Follow the safe work practices your employer establishes.
#3. Use machines as you are trained to use them. Wear any personal protective equipment provided to you and report any hazards. Do not give in to “peer pressure”.
#4. Talk about workplace safety with your parent or legal guardian.
Tips For Employers
#1. Know your responsibilities. Contact an employment lawyer so you are clear on the duties you owe your staff.
#2. Treat unpaid students as you would paid employees. As of November 2014, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) expanded its coverage to unpaid co-op students, certain other learners, and trainees participating in work placements. This means students have the same rights under the OHSA as paid workers.
#3. Provide health and safety training, orientation, and supervision to your employees. Consider tailoring these to young workers specifically. This might mean going over the basic hazards, procedures, and safety rules in greater detail given their lack of knowledge and experience.
At Rudner Law, we are committed to ensuring a safe workplace for all, particularly our vulnerable youth. While employers have the biggest responsibility to keep young workers safe, employees and even parents or legal guardians must do their part as well.
We work with employers to help them ensure that they are not only compliant with their legislative obligations, but strategic in their approach to workplace health and safety. And we work with employees to help them ensure that they understand their rights and, if those rights are breached, what they can do about it.