It’s common knowledge that inexperienced workers are injured at a higher rate than average. No matter how you look at it, various categories of new workers experience more incidents than others. The CDC notes that young workers, under the age of 25, are treated in emergency rooms 1.5 times more frequently than their older counterparts. A study of temp workers in five different states found that their injuries were both more frequent (between 50% and 72% higher, depending on the state) and also more severe (with an average of 13 additional days of lost time per injury).
A recent article on new-hire safety by senior safety consultant Larry Pearlman points out that this is a common trend among all types of employers who are new to their workplaces, as “almost a third of nonfatal injuries in the workplace involve employees who have been on the job for less than a year.” Pearlman goes on to note that nearly a quarter of these injuries are serious, leading to a month or more of time away from work.
Pearlman outlines the many factors that put new hires at a greater risk of incidents. These include a basic lack of knowledge, whether it’s about workplace hazards or specific procedures that are meant to protect employees from harm. Folks who have recently joined the workplace are also likely to be less familiar with various pieces of safety equipment and risk assessments.
Other issues may be less obvious. One of these is that new workers may feel less confident in their ability to make use of their stop-work authority. As Pearlman says:
“It should also be made clear to new workers how stop-work authority can be exercised, including who they should talk to and how they can raise safety concerns. Be sure to emphasize the ability to stop work without fear of reprisal. Better yet, share stories of how people have called a safety timeout and been celebrated for doing so. The goal here is to reduce ambiguity and social friction that could impede a worker’s perceived ability to halt unsafe practices.”
Ambiguity is a major concern for safety, especially when it comes to new workers. The article is a succinct review of the issue and so it doesn’t have the space to delve into it in depth, but Pearlman is correct in flagging it as one of the many human factors that can put new hires in danger. As he puts it, “While human factors such as fatigue make big headlines, other human factors such as uncertainty and ambiguity can be problematic for employees who are new to the workplace and unfamiliar with how things work.
All told, the article is well worth reading. Published in Safety+Health magazine as part of their Workplace Solutions section, it’s a strong call to action on workplace safety for new employees that comes with practical advice on how to keep workers safer in their first year on the job.