Protecting young workers: 5 tips to engage the next generation

Growing green plantOf the 629,000 workers who suffered an accident in 2013/14, a disproportionate number were younger workers. As recently as 2006, the TUC reported that a 16-24 year old was being seriously injured at work every 40 minutes in the UK, and killed at a rate of one every month. While this number has thankfully begun to fall, it is nevertheless imperative that we do everything we can to educate our young workers on the dangers they face at work. With this in mind, we have put together a short guide exploring the reasons why young people have more accidents, and the ways we can tailor training to be more suitable for younger members of the workforce…

Why do young people have more accidents?

There are numerous reasons why young people are more vulnerable, not least that, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), ‘all people are at particular risk of injury in the first six months of a job as they may be unaware of existing or potential risks.’ As young people are more likely to fall into this category, they consequently suffer a greater number of accidents. In addition to this, young people may lack the experience or maturity they need to look after themselves, or they may be unaware of how to raise concerns. They may not have reached physical maturity and therefore lack the strength demanded of a certain role, or they may be eager to impress or please people with whom they work. Therefore, it is vital that they are trained in a way that gets through to them, so that the knowledge you impart sticks! If you’re having trouble connecting, the following tips might help:

1.     Talk up, not down!

There is perhaps a temptation when talking to younger people to assume they know nothing at all. However, this misconception is likely to cause your audience to switch off quicker than you can say ‘we’re not a bunch of kids!’ While it’s true they may be unfamiliar with specific policies or practices, it’s also important to remember that they have not spent their lives sitting in a box, and will undoubtedly have had their fair share of risk management in their personal lives – even if they didn’t call it that! A good strategy is to make your training sessions less of a lecture and more of a conversation. Create an atmosphere where people are comfortable airing any issues and encourage questions. Above all, put yourself in a young person’s shoes and try and think back to when you were new on the job (it might be difficult for some of you to remember that far back!) What was your response if you felt someone was talking down to you?

2.     Death by PowerPoint

iStock_000041578060SmallWe’ve all been there. It doesn’t matter how important the information that’s being shared, most people can only take a finite number of slides before they find themselves slipping into a health and safety coma! One way to tackle this problem is to take a leaf out of teachers’ books. After all, it’s a poor teacher these days who’s content to stand in front of a whiteboard and lecture their class all day long. Rather, they plan activities, worksheets, quizzes… anything they can do to keep their students engaged. They also embrace technology, incorporating videos, music and interactive games in order to stave off snoozing at the back of the class – and you should do the same! You’ll probably find you’re more engaged too, which makes for a happier session all round.

3.     Harness the power of numbers…

Accidents are the single biggest preventable cause of death for most of our adult lives, and there’s no denying the scale of the issue facing young workers. Accident statistics are a great way of providing context, helping to illustrate how big a problem accidents in the workplace are. However, rather than simply referencing a dry set of numbers, you should give some consideration to the way you present statistics. The large numbers invariably involved in accident prevention can end up feeling a little abstract, so it’s worth using images and charts to help make the data easier to interpret. If you need some inspiration, try checking out our free safety infographics.

4.     …. But don’t forget to keep it real!

While statistics are a great way of presenting the big picture, it’s important to balance the broader picture with real life examples. For instance, it’s one thing to make a point using shocking construction statistics, but to then use a real life example about an individual whose life was changed irreparably after a building site accident can really cause your audience to stop and think – which is exactly what good safety training should do. You also shouldn’t be afraid to tug a few heart strings. If a young person gets hurt – or worse – at work, what would the impact be on their friends, parents or partners? Reminding people of their responsibilities beyond work is a powerful way to bring home the importance of staying safe on the job.

5.     Use carrots, not sticks

One of the reasons some people instinctively hate health and safety, is they think of it as a ‘killjoy culture’ – a bunch of people saying ‘don’t’, not ‘do’. Nobody likes to be threatened or bullied into making better decisions, and young people are no different! A far more effective approach is to reward people for their positive contributions, and to celebrate the accidents that haven’t happened. If you have a member of staff who has really gone above and beyond, you could even consider nominating them for a Guardian Angel award – and show both them, and the rest of the world, just how seriously you take workplace safety!

Carrot on a stick isolated on white

 For more expert advice and tips on training and other safety issues, don’t forget to sign up to SafetyMatters, RoSPA’s free fortnightly newsletter, and receive our collection of free original e-books!

Heather Bryant, Director of Health, Safety and Environment, Balfour Beatty will be speaking at RoSPA’s Construction Health and Safety Conference 2015 about how their journey on zero harm in the workplace.

Related reading –

Please go to the below links for more information on driving and young workers –

2 thoughts on “Protecting young workers: 5 tips to engage the next generation

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  1. This one has some fantastic information and tactics. I agree that real life examples are a great tool in creating a connection with younger workers. If more young people were to share their experiences this would help to raise awareness of the problems and hopefully facilitate some solutions

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