Youth brings with it vigour and enthusiasm, but young workers — defined as those under the age of 25 — are also the weakest links. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, new and young workers are three times more likely to be injured during the first month on the job than more experienced workers are.
A young worker’s ability to recognize hazards is underdeveloped compared to experienced workers, according to Eric Huard, market segment manager of personal safety with service provider and distributor Levitt-Safety in Oakville, Ontario. “They have not been exposed to various situations, so they lack the knowledge to determine what is safe and unsafe.”
Young workers’ excitement towards a new job and their willingness to impress can also give rise to an approach to do whatever it takes get the job done, Huard suggests. Part of that risk profile has to do with the physiological fact that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which regulates complex cognitive, emotional and behavioural functioning, does not become fully developed until the age of 25.
“They are not thinking with a full adult brain,” says Ottawa-based Tova Larsen, a consultant with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) — one of four non-profit, sector-based health and safety associations in the province.
Larsen herself suffered a workplace injury when she was a young worker at a metalworking shop. She was moving a cast-iron wheelbarrow on a dolly when it fell on her feet, putting her out of work for one year. “I was in pain all the time,” Larsen recalls. “My injury could have been prevented by safety boots for a hundred bucks.”
Huard stresses the importance of training, which should be reinforced with mentorship. Larsen recommends that training should be a three-step process involving showing, doing and teaching. First, an experienced worker teaches a young worker how to perform a task. The young worker then attempts the task under the supervision of the experienced worker. The third stage involves the young worker teaching the task back to the mentor. “If they can teach it back to the mentor, they’ve got it,” Larsen says.
For parents with kids who plan to take up summer jobs or are entering the workplace for the first time, Larsen recommends them to check out the website Bring Safety Home, which provides resources and tips that enable parents to play a proactive role in ensuring that their children come home from work safe and sound.
One important point to drive home with young workers is that personal protective equipment (PPE) works only if it is worn correctly and specific to the risk for which it was designed. “Younger people like to stand out against the norm and show individuality,” Huard notes, stressing the need to educate them on the importance of using PPE as they are intended. But that can be a challenge in and of itself.
“Younger workers are more demanding when it comes to comfort for all-day wear,” says Tim Wolski, product manager for Fibre-Metal and North hard hats with Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions in Providence, Rhode Island.
Selecting PPE that fits, looks cool and feels comfortable, is integral to their protection. One example of such PPE is Honeywell’s North Zone™ hard hats which are available in two models — N10, N20. The lowprofile N10 hard hat features a short brim while the N20 features a full brim.
“The North Zone hard hat makes it easy for nearly any worker to achieve a comfortable, personalized fit while benefitting from the reliable impact protection for which Honeywell is known,” Wolski says. North Zone hard hats also feature a patented suspension, multiple adjustment points and a rear-comfort cradle that would fit most head sizes. As looking good is important to young workers, these hard hats come in 15 different shell colors and meet CSA Z94.1 2015 Type I, Class C, G and E safety standards.
Huard thinks that using colours in PPE to differentiate young workers is a good practice. “This makes them easily recognizable and helps to create a work environment where the more experienced workers can look out for those with less experience.”
WINDOWS TO THE SOUL
As protection from job hazards often starts with good vision, Huard encourages young workers to undergo a vision test as he observes that many young workers do not realize they have vision impairment. “Prescription safety eyewear make a huge difference in their performance,” he says.
When selecting safety eyewear, pay attention to the nose bridge and arms of the eyewear — particularly behind the ears — to reduce or eliminate pressure points with adjustable arms and padded nose bridges. Safety eyewear must also meet CSA Z94.3 standard for impact protection, says Wanda Sanchez-Miller, senior product marketing manager of Uvex safety eyewear with Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions in Smithfield, Rhode Island.
Comfort, fit and anti-fog performance are also important considerations. “When eyewear is uncomfortable, ill fitting or foggy, workers are likely to remove it — even in the presence of hazards. Not wearing safety eyewear, or not wearing the proper type, are leading causes of eye injuries,” Sanchez-Miller says.
Based on the hazards present, the type of eyewear and the lens tints to shield against visible and invisible light hazards will be chosen. “Lens colour should be matched to the working condition or you can be susceptible to eye fatigue, which can cause migraines,” Huard cautions.
As fog obscures a worker’s view of hazards, HydroShield™ anti-fog lens coating addresses this challenge by delivering consistent anti-fog performance that lasts 90 times longer. The coating’s chemically advanced hydrophilic properties absorb moisture, while its hydrophobic properties spread and shed excess condensation. By using an intense curing process to permanently adhere the coating to the lens, HydroShield performs at its best even with frequent wear, wiping and more than 30 washings.
As Millennials are Canada’s most culturally diverse generation who make up nearly half the workforce, “finding safety eyewear that looks good, feels good and delivers a safe fit for this demographic can prove challenging,” SanchezMiller says.
With that in mind, CSA Z94.3-2015-certified Uvex Avatar™ safety eyewear feature advanced adjustability to deliver personalized, gap-free protection across a wide range of facial profiles. Avatar uses Multi-Material Technology on nose pads and temples to provide secure and reliable retention with eight points of adjustability. It also has indirect venting and comes in four frame colours and various lens tints.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common and preventable occupational injuries. As NIHL is painless, progressive and permanent, Huard recommends that workers undergo a baseline hearing test to track hearing loss that can develop over time.
“When it comes to young workers, the biggest mistake I see with hearing protection is that they don’t have the earplugs inserted into their ears properly,” Huard says. Foam earplugs need to be rolled down, inserted and held in place.
“If someone is facing you and you can see the earplugs, they are not in the ears far enough and providing proper noise reduction,” Huard adds.
Honeywell’s TrustFit Pod™ is a hybrid, reusable push-in foam earplug designed with young workers in mind. It features patent-pending dimpled foam tips for easy push-in insertion, easy-to-grasp ergonomic stems for removal and an optional cord that hangs around the neck for convenient removal and replacement.
Honeywell also carries the new Howard Leight HL400™ earplug dispenser, which accommodates all styles of Howard Leight disposable foam earplugs. Safety managers can make these earplugs readily accessible by dispensing them in prefilled canisters or traditional zip-top bags.
“With this newly designed earplug dispenser from Honeywell, companies now have virtually endless mounting options from which to choose, helping to ensure that workers can obtain a new pair of earplugs at the most advantageous location,” says Lisa Steckert, product manager of hearing protection with Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions in Providence, Rhode Island.
While young workers should be provided with PPE and trained on how to use them, designing a safety message that resonates with young workers is critical. The message of coming home safely to families and kids, which is commonly seen in workplace-safety marketing, “doesn’t resonate with a teenage kid,” Larsen says.
Instead, safety messages should hook into what young workers care about. “Put yourself in their shoes: what does a teenager care about? Wear your safety glasses, because it is really hard to learn how to drive if you are missing an eye.”
She also highlights the importance of recognizing the hazards that exist in many sectors where young workers typically work. Falls from heights are common in retail, while those in the food and beverage sector handle sharps, work around hot surfaces and operate on greasy floors that put them at risk of slips, trips and falls.
“Young workers in these environments can also take a tremendous amount of abuse from the general public,” Larsen adds, citing the handling of cash and interactions with customers that can put them at risk of workplace violence.
“If we can ingrain our workers with a strong safety culture early, we can continue to build upon those practices without having [them] to unlearn any potential unsafe work practices,” Huard says.
Jean Lian is editor of OHS Canada.