Across Australian workplaces young people aged 15-24 face a higher risk of injury or death than all other workers. In fact, young workers are 17% more likely to suffer a work-related injury and 21% more likely to be hospitalised than the average across all ages.
 
To improve these statistics it helps to understand where and why these injuries occur, and tailor safety strategies to prevent these types of incidents from occurring.
 
Why are young workers more at risk?
 
Young people bring many positive qualities to the workforce. However, some attributes of this age group can also increase the risk of injury at work. According to Safework Australia:
 
  • Relatively new to the workforce, young workers often lack the experience they need to make mature safety decisions at work. They may also be less aware of workplace health and safety risks and responsibilities, and less familiar with appropriate workplace behaviours.
  • Young workers can be overly keen to make a good impression, not wanting to hold up construction schedules by voicing concerns or asking questions when safety issues arise.
  • The skills, competencies and physical capabilities of young workers are still developing. Despite this, they may overestimate their capabilities.
  • Young people are more inclined than other employees to enter risky situations without considering health and safety outcomes. A sense of curiosity and playfulness can also put this group at risk, at times when great care is required.
 
Common workplace injuries
 
The construction industry has the third highest rate of serious claims in Australia. Some of the most frequent injuries affecting young workers in this industry include:
           
Hand injuries:
Hand injury rates increase dramatically for young people, with construction workers under the age of 35 twice as likely to injure their hands than older workers. Injuries like fractures, cuts, bruises, and lacerations are common in construction, particularly when using hand tools.
 
Back injuries:
Muscle strains can be debilitating, and are often caused by moving heavy objects (like wooden pallets); bending cable; putting tools down; lifting ladders and heat equipment; or bending down for long periods.
 
Slips, trips and falls:
Arm, leg and foot injuries are common in young construction workers resulting from slips, trips and falls. Across the industry, nearly one-third of all reportable injuries and 40% of Australian construction industry fatalities result from these types of incidents.
 
Improving safety culture and performance
 
To improve workplace safety, it is vital to prioritise and shape safety strategies to meet the needs of more vulnerable sectors of the workforce.
 
Training and supervision
 
  • Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) training for young workers must be detailed and specific, focusing on individual hazards and appropriate safety procedures and measures for each task.
  • Mentoring programs can be an effective way to improve workplace safety, sharing the problem solving and risk assessment skills of more experienced workers with newer members of the workforce.
  • As young workers often lack on the job experience, proper supervision is always required when performing high-risk tasks.
 
Changing safety behaviours
 
To improve workplace safety, we can encourage safer behaviours for specific injury-prone tasks:
 
  • To prevent back injuries, allow time and remind workers to warm up cold muscles with gentle stretches when performing physically strenuous tasks.
  • Offer training, signage and on the job guidance on the correct way to perform high-risk tasks. 
  • Remind young workers to speak up, and slow down – rushing on the job and failing to ask questions or raise concerns are common causes of workplace injury.
 
Safety culture
 
Culture plays an important part in achieving good safety performance. To reinforce a strong safety culture amongst younger workers:
 
  • Clearly communicate WHS procedures and acknowledge adherence.
  • Endorse a “stop work” culture, stressing the importance for young workers to stop work – without repercussion – if they do not feel safe completing a task.
  • Encourage young workers to speak up if they have safety concerns. Also make sure supervisors and WHS representatives are accessible, and encourage employees to talk with mentors or more experienced colleagues about concerns.
 
Have you achieved better safety outcomes for younger members of your workforce? How do you meet the safety needs of diverse employees? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.
 
 

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