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Safety First and Last: Protect young and new workers in your workplace

By Jeff Thorne   

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Protect young workers

Each day in Canada, close to 50 workers under the age of 19 are injured on the job according to statistics from the Association of the Worker’s Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC). New workers in Ontario are three times more likely to be injured on the job than more experienced workers. In 2017, there were six traumatic fatalities and 7,956 lost-time claims reported among workers aged 15 to 24. These are just the reported claims – many injuries go unreported. Lack of knowledge and experience, lack of training and hesitancy to ask questions contributes to the increased rate of injury experienced by new and young workers. Fortunately, employers can take proactive steps to mitigate the risks that these workers face. Here’s how.

Not providing required safety information proved to be a gap for many employers of young workers during the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s most recent inspection blitz focused on new and young workers. The most frequently issued order by inspectors involved the employer’s failure to post a copy of the OHSA and any explanatory material.

Employers must communicate the job tasks, hazards and controls. Providing this information will help keep new and young workers informed and allow them to make informed decisions. Provide workplace-specific policies and procedures in writing and have all new workers review and acknowledge them prior to starting the job.

Training workers provides them the knowledge and confidence to perform their tasks safely. New and young workers must be provided training on the following, even if they are only being hired on a temporary basis: Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS); worker rights and responsibilities; and workplace violence and harassment.

New and young workers also need to be provided with job or task-specific training. This training must cover safe operating procedures, actual and potential hazards and how to use personal protective equipment. Depending on the task, training may be informal and on-the-job. Some industries and job tasks may require formal training.

Employers have a legal obligation to provide workers with information, instruction and competent supervision. Supervisors need to monitor and engage new and young workers to make sure they are working in compliance with standards and rules that have been designed for their protection. If they notice unsafe behaviour or substandard acts or practices, they should address it right away. In the case of a new or young worker, it’s likely a lack of knowledge that’s causing their unsafe behaviour. However, if it is a disregard for policies, supervisors have a responsibility to find out why the behaviour exists and to educate them.

Since new and young workers will have less experience, they may need more supervision than more experienced workers. Confirm that there are enough resources and your supervisors have enough capacity to train and monitor new workers if you are hiring several at once.

Young workers often hesitate to ask questions, which can leave them facing unnecessary risks. Support your new employee’s participation in their own safety by encouraging feedback. Demonstrate your openness by making sure supervisors respond respectfully to all questions, as basic as they may seem to a seasoned supervisor. Ask members of your Joint Health and Safety Committee to regularly check in with new workers during their inspections and ask if they have any concerns that they can address. New workers may recognize hazards that more experienced workers have become accustomed to. Finally, share with new and young workers the importance of reporting hazards and injuries to their supervisor.

By taking steps to protect the safety of young and new workers, you can ensure that they remain effective contributors to your team, rather than a threat to their own wellbeing and the safety of your workplace.

Jeff Thorne is the training manager at Occupational Safety Group.

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