Local health officials offer safety advice for teens working this summer
As hundreds of teenagers soon start local summer jobs, public health and safety officials ask young workers and their employers to team up to keep less experienced employers safe in all types of jobs, from landscaping to restaurants.
Whether it’s employers providing sufficient safety equipment, gathering all employees for a short safety meeting every shift or allowing competent employees enough hours to train younger workers fully, supervision of summer staff includes a lot of responsibility with teens new to the workforce.
Young employees also need to take the initiative to ask questions until they understand procedures and to voice concerns if they feel unsafe or the potential to be injured, said Bevin Luna, certified industrial hygienist with Colorado State University’s OSHA Consultation program that provides assistance in Routt County. OSHA, or the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, contracts with CSU to provide employee safety education across Colorado.
With their energy and enthusiasm, young workers might be tasked with more than is safe physically, such as being asked to lift too heavy items, said Roberta Smith, Routt County public health director.
“A lot of teens don’t understand that they absolutely have the right to stop work if they don’t feel safe,” Luna said. “They want to please their bosses and are excited to have a job, so they cut corners when they really should be slowing down to think about the hazards they are exposed to. They have to know they have every right to slow down and ask questions.”
Luna said the consultation team does not levy fines but can provide mock OSHA inspections. The team often educates at Colorado businesses deemed as high hazards, such as excavation, construction, health care, welding shops, manufacturing, warehouses, beverage production and automotive repair.
She said the level of worker training in Routt Count is very variable, including some companies that have created strong safety training programs, but unfortunately, the guidelines remain in binders on a shelf.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, the rate of work-related injuries treated in emergency departments in 2017 for workers ages 15 to 19 was 1.25 times greater than the rate for workers 25 and older.
“Young workers have high rates of job-related injuries from the many hazards present in the places they typically work, such as sharp knives and slippery floors. Limited or no prior work experience and a lack of safety training also contribute to high injury rates,” according to NIOSH.
Smith said national data on youth worker injuries from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2012 to 2018 reports an estimated 3.2 million nonfatal injuries to young workers treated in hospital emergency departments, with the highest rates among workers age 18 to 19. Data from 2018 indicate the leisure and hospitality industry contributed the highest percentage of injuries to workers ages 15 to 17 years, requiring at least one day away from work, Smith said.
As for advice for parents of youth starting their first jobs, Smith said make sure teens feel empowered to ask questions and speak up. She added for teens, “Don’t sleep through the safety talks because they are important.”
A list of common work injuries that can affect teens include:
• Slips, trips and falls, such as from liquid spills on floors or falling off roofs
• Burns from fryers, grills and ovens from not wearing heat resistant gloves (latex gloves do not protect against heat)
• Falls from ladders that are not set up or used properly
• Cuts from meat slicers, box cutters and knives for kitchen prep work
• Chemical exposure due to lack of protective gear, such as gloves and eye protection or not reading product safety guidelines
• Heat stroke or heat stress from outdoor jobs and not taking sufficient shade and water breaks
• Body parts caught in running equipment
• Injuries or trauma from workplace fights, harassment or discrimination
The professionals’ tips for employers who engage young workers include:
• Maintain an open-door manager policy where teens feel comfortable asking questions or voicing concerns, and address those concerns thoroughly.
• Make sure workers in any remote location have a functioning phone or radio and know who to call in case of an injury or emergency.
• Do not allow a young worker to open or close the workplace alone.
• Stock and maintain proper safety gear and ensure young workers use or wear it.
• Ensure all employees are trained on how to properly set up for the work shift and assess the work area for potential hazards before the shift starts.
• Use a near-miss or almost injury as an opportunity for a safety moment or refresher training.
Safety resources for employers, workers
The free, confidential OSHA Consultation program through Colorado State University provides in-person visits to Routt County workplaces for worker safety assistance. Workers or employers can reach out with questions or concerns at 970-491-6151 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit OSHA.ColoState.edu
The consultation program offers: on-site safety and health audits; health and safety program review and assistance; assessments of health and safety management practices; health and safety training and education; OSHA compliance assistance; workplace air and noise monitoring; technical guidance; and printed materials.
Resources for young worker safety and health, OSHA.gov/youngworkers/resources.html, includes sections for young workers, employers, parents and educators.
Safety Matters Center, AIHA.org/get-involved/safety-matters-center, raises awareness among young workers about workplace safety and health, and provides an understanding of the skills they need to be active participants in safe and healthy work environments.
Youth@Work: Talking Safety Curriculum for Colorado, CDC.gov/niosh/talkingsafety, provides a free curriculum that helps teachers and others educate young workers about the basics of job safety.
Are you a Teen Worker? CDC.gov/niosh/docs/2012-130 is a handout in English and Spanish that explains basic rights and rules for youth employees.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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