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Got Young Workers? Here’s How to Teach them to Be Safe

Zach Pucillo /
  • Categories: EHS

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (or NIOSH for short) statistics show that workers between the ages of 16 and 25 seem to generally be more risk-tolerant than their older workplace counterparts.

For instance, in 2018, there were close to 19.4 million workers under the age of 24 representing 12% of the total workforce. That year, sadly, 360 of those workers died from work-related injuries. Also, the incidence rate for non-fatal injuries for workers between the ages of 16 and 19 was 11.3 per 10,000 employees and 99.3 per 10,000 employees for workers between the ages of 20 and 24. And, in 2017, the rate of work-related injuries treated in emergency departments for workers between the ages of 15 and 19 was 1.25 times greater than the rate for workers age 25 and older.

Thus, the data tells us that if you employ workers under the age of 25 it’s important to devise proactive strategies for addressing their risk tolerance.

Put Yourself in a Younger Worker’s Shoes

Start by considering the younger worker’s mindset and experiences generally. For instance, consider that they may:

  • Have limited or no prior work experience
  • Lack safety training
  • Get distracted easily
  • Be unable to understand consequences
  • Be afraid to ask questions
  • Make assumptions to their detriment  
  • Have a lack of career ambition

Granted, these are generalizations, but they can shed light on what you’re likely up against when engaging younger workers and getting their buy-in on safety. By understanding where they’re coming from, you can start to develop a strategy for shifting their mindset to become less risk-tolerant.

Getting Younger Employees’ Buy-In

One of the most impactful ways to motivate younger workers to reduce their risk tolerance is to focus on technology. This generation grew up with mobile phones, apps, and social media, and their cell phones are likely attached at their hips.

Certainly, if distractions from a mobile phone or electronic tablet could result in safety hazards at work, consider implementing a ban on such usage in high-risk work areas. But, once you’ve identified those risks and implemented policies and practices to properly address those issues, consider the ways in which you can leverage technology to work to your advantage.

For instance, consider including your safety data sheets (SDSs) in a mobile application that’s easily accessible 24/7 from a mobile phone or tablet. Embrace the fact that the days of exclusively relying on an old dusty binder that’s chock full of SDSs are generally gone and that it’s time to empower the workforce by placing the safety information they need at their fingertips. This can also be an opportunity to bring those younger workers into the process of selecting an app to use, so they feel included and are proactively contributing to the process.

And, one more point about those SDSs

They can be a great tool for educating the workforce about potential workplace hazards to avoid. As a best practice, regularly review your SDSs to make sure they are up to date and available to the workforce. Consider questions like “Do we have an inventory for all the chemicals we keep onsite?” and “Have we inadvertently tossed any SDSs”? If the answer is yes, take note because those need to be maintained for 30 years (long after these younger workers have entered the workforce).

By putting yourself in the mindset of a younger worker, you’ll be better able to train them on how to avoid safety mishaps at work and hopefully reduce your incidence rates overall and maintain a healthy workforce.

KPA’s got the training, tools, and talent to help you keep your young workforce engaged. If you would like to discuss other ways to engage younger workers so they become less risk tolerant, contact KPA today.

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