How BC youth can talk health and safety at work during the pandemic

Sep 1 2020, 9:14 am

Young workers face a unique set of challenges in the workplace. Apart from learning new skills, it’s important to know your rights at work and the health and safety regulations in your industry so that you can stay safe on the job.

For most young people, work can seem intimidating at first. You want to make a good first impression by showing your co-workers and your boss that you know what you’re doing. But you have the right to go home safe at the end of your shift; talking about safety at work, asking for training, and bringing up concerns are key to making sure you do.

When you think of workplace incidents, you might picture people using tools on a construction site or handling heavy machinery in a factory. And while these can be hazardous jobs, they’re not the only industries where workers aged between 18 to 24 are at risk of being injured.

As industries continue to navigate COVID-19, we teamed up with WorkSafeBC to learn more about how young workers can stay healthy and safe at work.

Hospitality and kitchen workers

Cactus Club/WorkSafeBC

While everyone knows how fast-paced the food industry can be, there are also risks involved in the work. Did you know that over 8,850 people (aged 18 to 24) in food service occupations were injured between 2010 and 2019?

Common injuries include cuts, heat burns, overexertion, and injuries caused by slipping on wet floors. To avoid injury, take the time before starting your shift to assess your surroundings and speak up if you feel something is a hazard. Don’t worry about being the squeaky wheel — chances are if you think something is unsafe and have questions for your boss, your coworkers do, too.

Coronavirus is of course another concern for those working in the hospitality industry. If you’re among them, you can learn more about the safety protocols for employers in restaurants, cafés, bars, and nightclubs as they adjust operations during BC’s Restart Plan.

Retail workers

Otter Co-op/WorkSafeBC

Whoever said retail meant just standing around all day? You’re stocking shelves, taking inventory, bagging purchases — and facing potential hazards such as falls from ladders and muscle strains due to overexertion and maintaining physical distancing.   

More than 10,200 young retail workers in BC reported being injured at work between 2010 and 2019. Some of these roles include salespeople, shelf stockers, material handlers, and cashiers. It just goes to show you that no matter what job you have, it’s important to ask for and receive proper training.

Learning more about the safety protocols that employers in retail need to put in place for their workers during the pandemic allows you to discover if your boss is taking the right steps.

Construction trades and labourers

Fourth-Rite Construction/WorkSafeBC

Working on a construction site can be hectic, noisy, and physically demanding — leading to potentially hazardous conditions for young workers. In fact, between 2010 and 2019, more than 12,300 young workers in BC were injured while working in construction.

Some of the most common causes of injuries are being struck by something, overexertion, and falling from a building or ladder — resulting in everything from cuts and bruises, to strained muscles and broken bones.

With construction deemed essential amid the coronavirus outbreak, the industry has put many health and safety protocols in place. If you’re working in or considering a job in the industry, educate yourself about coronavirus safety and always keep safety top of mind — especially on a busy site. Don’t be afraid to speak up at safety meetings if you have a question and consider joining your company’s joint health and safety committee.

Material handlers

Wallace & Carey/WorkSafeBC

Material handlers (think forklift drivers at Costco) have a physically intense job. It often involves carrying heavy objects and kneeling, crouching, and crawling in difficult positions.

Between 2010 and 2019, more than 860 young workers in BC were injured while moving products around in warehouses and manufacturing shops. The most common injuries were accidents due to overexertion and being struck by boxes, containers, or metal items. While accidents are possible in this line of work, they can be easily avoided if you stick to the safety rules.

If you find yourself working a job like this, take time during training to consider the hazards, such as high noise levels or moving equipment. Be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and be on the lookout for your co-workers.

During the pandemic, ask your boss or supervisor about proper procedures including cleaning, sanitation, personal protective equipment, and any additional measures to control the risk of coronavirus exposure.

Listen to your gut

If you find yourself under pressure in the workplace and in an unsafe situation, it’s important you know what to do.

WorkSafeBC found that most young workers can be hesitant to speak up in the workplace, even when they know something’s not right. Their research indicated that workers generally won’t question or speak up, even if they aren’t equipped to do the work safely with the right gear or training. Why? Because they’re scared to lose respect or, even, their job.

But just because someone is your boss, doesn’t mean they always know best. If you’re in a situation where your manager is asking you to do something that you don’t think is safe, trust your instincts and listen to your gut when deciding your next move.

This is a message that Jack Thomas, who was tragically injured at work, wants to share with other young workers in BC. He lost his right arm at the age of 17 in a workplace incident when his sleeve got caught in a conveyer belt.

“I didn’t think at all about making my own safety a priority. Now I understand that the employer is responsible for making sure the workplace is safe, to explain any potential workplace hazards, and to mandate proper supervision on the job,” said Thomas.

It’s important to know that you are never alone in these tricky situations. If you feel like your employer is ignoring your safety needs, WorkSafeBC can help you figure out the next steps. Call their Prevention Information Line at 604-276-3100 in the Lower Mainland or toll-free at 1-8880-621-7233.

Find more helpful information and resources related to your industry, along with tips for speaking to your manager about health and safety, at worksafebc.com/listentoyourgut.

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