Every year, young people enter the workforce with little to no safety awareness. This presents safety professionals with both an opportunity and a challenge. How do you protect people who have little practice in paying attention to workplace hazards or following safety requirements? Employers have the chance to instill in young workers the importance of safety. This can foster a sense of personal autonomy and responsibility for their own and their co-workers’ safety that will last for the rest of their career.
When implementing safety programs, designing safety training or creating new-hire orientation, companies should consider the following characteristics displayed by young people entering the job market.
Lack of safety awareness
Many young employees think that nothing bad will ever happen to them on the job. However, they aren’t intentionally complacent or unaware of basic safety precautions. They simply lack the relevant experience, learning and attitude.
It’s important to provide young workers with the right safety education and to properly orient their perception of risk. And rather than using a lecture format, it’s worth getting young workers involved by providing interactive training sessions. Consider using humor, audio-visual aids, group discussions, or current events and stories in safety training, as these elements can help young employees retain more of the lesson and better apply it in their work.
Need for context
Young workers need to learn about safety in context, and not just as abstract ideas or general practices. Explain to them why they’re performing a job and why it’s done a certain way. Presenting clear reasons for safety rules and regulations, coupled with real stories about times when they were not followed, can help drive home the importance of safety.
Additionally, young people should be given a chance to ask questions about the way things are done. This can be great news not only for a workplace that’s aiming to increase safety awareness but also for one that’s open to hearing new opinions and implementing changes.
Need to impress
Those at the start of their careers are often eager to show their employer that they’re an asset to their team. Unfortunately, they may put people-pleasing or their ambitions to meet a deadline ahead of personal safety. When young workers enter a work environment that with a weak safety culture, these issues can be exacerbated. This happens when other staff members are unaware of the hazards or become complacent, which is why safety values and habits need to be addressed from the very beginning.
Young workers are physically capable of doing a myriad of tasks without seeming to tire, and they may recover from strenuous work faster than others. But exhausting work can still take its toll.
Conditions such as fatigue aren’t always easy to recognize and young employees can learn to hide it well, especially if they want to impress their superiors. Adequate breaks and days off should always be provided, and younger hires should be monitored to make sure they take the rest that’s required.
The engagement factor
Young workers rarely enter a workplace with a plan to stay there for the rest of their career. They expect to grow and improve so that they can move on to other things. So on the one hand, they want to prove themselves, but on the other, they also are less likely to remain engaged because they don’t expect to be in the position forever.
Employers should consider helping young employees grow and improve their skills. This will keep them engaged for longer, and it will provide them with the right tools to take with them when they leave. From an organizational value standpoint, it also increases the likelihood that they stay in their current position for a longer period of time.
The human factors
Young workers are likely to get their first job working in retail and food services, both of which can get busy either seasonally or during a daily rush. This means that their customers have expectations of speedy service. When employees are rushing or fatigued, they’re not always thinking about their safety. In fact, they may search for shortcuts in order to complete a task quickly and ensure the satisfaction of their customers and managers.
When these workers move on to work in other industries, they often retain a habit of rushing. Because many young workers are eager to please and are accustomed to speeding through their work, it’s that much more important to establish safe habits and help them recognize the dangers of rushing. This is equally true of other human factors, like frustration, fatigue and complacency.
When young people are hired, EHS folks should strive to create respect for safety and help them develop positive safety actions throughout their time in the workforce. This will make them safer, more productive workers for years to come.