Work health & safety is an important part of any HR policy, and all businesses have a duty of care and legal requirement to train their staff in best practices. But what you might not be as aware of is the attention and awareness that is needed for one of the most at-risk sections of your workforce – your young workers.
Young workers (aged 15-24) are engaged in the workforce in a number of ways, including part-time and full-time employment, casual employment and volunteering, and apprenticeships and traineeships.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting young workers to know how to look after themselves and colleagues when it comes to workplace safety. However, this is not the case at all. Remember back to what it was like in the first few weeks of your very first job – how much did you think about safety, risks and hazards back then?
Young workers have one of the highest work-related injury rates of any age group (ABS 2017-18). This is second only to those towards the end of their work careers.
For HR professionals, business managers, team leaders and health and safety specialists, understanding young worker safety is critical to a safe and confident workplace.
Here are 4 reasons your young workers are most at risk of serious injury, and what employers can do to protect them.
1. Their physical & cognitive abilities are still growing
This may appear obvious in theory, but it’s easy to forget when you’re running a busy workforce and business: workers who are 25 years or younger lack the same physical attributes and cognitive skills as older staff.
In fact, the human brain is not fully developed until your age reaches the mid-20s.
This can have different impacts in each role and industry, but it might not be what you think. Manual labour work still requires cognitive thinking for safety and different situations. Hospitality work might seem straight-forward and easy on the body, but staff new to the workforce need time to learn spatial awareness, balance and confidence behind the bar.
It all starts before workers even start on day 1. Online safety inductions are one of the best ways to prepare workers with practical, job-specific safety training so they start work with safety in mind. This can be completed in their own time without being on site, and can be tracked and monitored digitally.
All employers have a duty of care to their whole workforce to provide industry-standard, compliant safety training. It means all new workers, including those who are younger, are beginning their roles with confidence that their health and wellbeing is being looked after.
2. They lack experience & maturity
When you don’t have years of work experience to draw from or the maturity that you can only get from learning from your mistakes, your daily performance is at a low standard.
Older workers have faced and learned from a wide range of work risks, hazards and sometimes previous injuries. They know the personal impact, the professional repercussions that come from particular decisions you can make in a work setting. Most importantly, they also gravely understand the importance of speaking up and reporting risks to management.
You should assume that your younger staff members lack experience and maturity, regardless of how much they may appear to show they have already. Although sometimes true, it’s easy to be deceived.
When they begin on the job, don’t assume what they know. Take extra time to understand exactly where they’re at, and monitor their progress.
3. Ineffective training & inductions
One of the factors of young worker injuries that can fly under the radar is an ineffective history of training and inductions.
If you are hiring staff aged 16-20 they could be entering the workforce for the first time. If this is the case, you don’t have to worry about their previous training or inductions from other businesses. But it does mean you have to ensure they’re well supported and their first safety training and inductions are more comprehensive and suitable.
For those joining your company with a few items on their resume already, it pays to assume they haven’t received effective training before. A young worker might tell you they have completed bullying & discrimination training in the past, for example. In this case, it’s easy for many employers to wrongly trust the information and ignore a formal training program.
Always ensure you put every young staff member (and all other staff) through induction and training you can record. If you’re using an online eLearning solution, you may be able to check if someone has completed training on that platform with another employer. If they have, you can validate it quickly and have the young worker start even faster with written evidence of where they’re at with their safety knowledge and skills.
4. They need more supervision & mentoring support
Young workers often need increased hands-on support and guidance than other staff to help them grow confidence at work with personal safety.
This can be accelerated faster in your workplace by ensuring they receive suitable supervision from a manager or team leader, as well as mentoring support or buddy assistance from one of their colleagues.
If left to their own devices, young workers don’t feel as comfortable as older team members asking small and ‘silly’ questions as they arise. These can be the little safety and WHS hazards that mean the difference between a serious personal injury, or a simple safety report filled out.
Many of us learn right from wrong through experience. Supervision ensures they pick up the nuances and knowledge to build a well-rounded safety skill set. If you are proactive about safety and lead by example, they will follow.
WorkPro’s eLearning platform makes young worker health & safety simple to deliver, track and manage. For more tips and strategies to keep your young workers injury-free, download our free Young Worker Safety e-Book.