Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Is the “dork factor” hampering your safety training?

When it comes to training seasoned employees on workplace safety, you’ll rarely find a situation where an employee thinks they’re “too cool” to take the proper safety precautions at work. But when you’re dealing with teenage employees, the “dork factor” can have a major impact on how well, or not, they’ll follow safety precautions.

I first saw the “dork factor” explained by Paul Caret at the MEMIC Safety Blog in a post about motorcycle safety and the need to wear bright colored gear. When a coworker and avid motorcyclist met up with a few of his biker friends in a new, full faced helmet, they greeted him by saying, “Dude, you look like a dork.”

It may be easy for an adult to brush off a comment insulting their “coolness” and put safety above appearance, but the same situation can be much more difficult when you’re a teenager.

Whether it’s the pressure to look cool in front of their friends by not wearing a “dorky” helmet or feelings that they’re immune to the consequences of dangerous decisions, teens tend to take significantly more safety risks than the average adult.

“Because of their biologic, social, and economic characteristics, young workers have unique and substantial risks for work-related injuries and illnesses. In 2007, 38 youth under 18 died from work-related injuries. In 2006, an estimated 52,600 work-related injuries and illnesses among youth 15 to 17 years of age were treated in hospital emergency departments.” (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

Especially with the summer fast approaching and more teens entering the workforce, helping teens overcome the “dork factor” is more important to your safety efforts than ever. Consider these tips when training young workers on workplace safety:

  • Know the law, and make sure teens do, too. The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and child labor laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act outline specific employer responsibilities when it comes to keeping young workers safe. Ensure that you and your teen employees have a clear understanding of safety laws before they’re allowed to work.

  • Train, train, train. Develop a safety training course for teens to ensure they can recognize hazards and understand safe work practices. Topics should include, but are not limited to, how to prepare for fires, workplace accidents, violent situations and what to do if they are injured.

  • Supervise. Assign supervisors to groups of teen workers to help them recognize safety hazards and respond appropriately. Train supervisors to provide positive recognition to young employees who demonstrate safe working habits.

  • Make safety a priority. Stress workplace safety, especially among supervisors responsible for teens. First-line supervisors can have the greatest influence on teens’ and their work habits.

  • Encourage questions. Establish an open-door policy where young workers can feel comfortable asking about anything that is unclear or not understood, particularly when it comes to safety.

When teen workers know how to be safe at work and the reasons behind safety measures they’ll be better equipped to get over the “dork factor” and watch out for their own well-being, along with the safety of their coworkers. You have only a few weeks left before school lets out for summer, so get started on your teen worker safety program today.

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