Teaching Teens Workplace Safety


Do you remember your first job? For many teens, summer is when they get their first real taste of the workplace.  It’s an exciting time full of new responsibilities, new friends, new skills, and learning how to be accountable to someone other than a parent/guardian or a teacher.  These first jobs can either help, or hinder, an individual’s future in the workplace.

An important aspect to learning the ropes in a new work environment is learning how to be safe. Teens need to be taught workplace safety.  They need to be taught how to look out for dangers and how to do a job correctly.  Employers cannot assume that these brand new workers will automatically be able to be proactively safe or spot dangerous situations.

An article in Safety and Health Magazine, put out by the National Safety Council, focuses on how employers MUST train teens to work safely.  “Not having been in the workforce, they don’t recognize hazards,” said Diane Rohlman, assistant professor and director of the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest at the University of Iowa. “If somebody tells them to do something, they’re just going to do it. That’s the model they’ve been following.” Teens have been in a school environment where they must ask permission to do specific things such as use the restroom and go to their locker.  Learning how to think beyond specific instructions is a skill that employers need to teach.

The article talks about how teen workers need to be encouraged to speak up.  Teens want to be viewed as competent, knowledgeable adults in the workplace. They don’t want to look “stupid” by asking too many questions.  Employers to these new workers need to encourage questions.  They need to create a safe environment for learning.

According to the NSC, Rebecca Guerin, a NIOSH research social scientist who studies young worker safety, said employers who hire teens should follow these guidelines:

  • Learn and comply with all federal and state child labor laws that apply.
  • Instruct teen workers on what to do in the event they are injured on the job.
  • Prepare teens for emergencies (e.g., fires, workplace violence, and unexpected or dangerous situations).
  • Ensure teens know how to use personal protective equipment, if necessary.
  • Provide hands-on training on the correct use of equipment.
  • Reinforce training constantly.
  • Give clear instruction for each task, especially unfamiliar ones.
  • Provide safety training using words that teens can understand.
  • Demonstrate safety precautions and point out possible workplace hazards.
  • Supervise teens closely, correcting any issues immediately.
  • Encourage open communication in which questions and concerns are welcome.
  • Implement a mentorship program or buddy system with an adult or experienced co-worker.
  • Set a good safety example.

Learning how to train teen workers is an important skill that every employer should spend time focusing on.  First jobs create a baseline for teens that will hopefully help them become safe and reliable workers for the rest of their lives.  Take a look at the article for more ideas on creating safe work environments for teen workers.

“Safety’s First Step.” Safety and Health Magazine.

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