Young workers 21 per cent more likely to be hospitalised: Safety Guide

Young Workers Safety Guide

Young workers – classified as 15-24 year-olds – face the greatest risk of workplace injury due to their inexperience, combined with developmental and generational factors.

Shockingly, any new worker – no matter their age – is as likely to suffer an injury during the first six months at a workplace as during the whole of the rest of their working life, according to the UK Government’s HSE Executive. Workers returning from annual leave also face increased injury risks.

However the unique risk profiles of young workers’ puts them at even greater risk. They are 17 per cent more likely to suffer a work related injury and 21 per cent more likely to be hospitalised than the average across all ages, according to WorkSafe Victoria’s young workers safety guide.

Their risk profile stems from a number of factors, according to WorkCover Queensland, including that young workers often having reduced risk perception, are less likely to ask questions or raise safety concerns and often overestimate their capabilities.

Developmental factors:

Intellectual: The brain does not finish developing until the mid-20s meaning young workers’ ability to perform complex tasks, multi-task, problem-solve, and control impulses is reduced.

Physical: Young workers need more sleep and recovery so tasks, equipment and work environments designed for the majority of workers may not meet their needs.

Social: A desire to impress others and fit in means young workers typically model their behaviour (right or wrong) on their co-workers and avoid asking questions and raising concerns.

Protecting Young Workers:

Supervisors and managers can have the greatest influence on young workers’ attitudes to WHS through effective induction, training, supervision, feedback and mentoring.

However young workers learn differently and classroom environments should be complemented with interactive, hands-on and self-directed learning from a range of sources. Tasks should be designed to focus on developing skills and experience, not just around harm minimisation

Furthermore, information presented using images and technology is likely to be better received that technical, written documents.

Given that young workers may be less likely to ask questions and notice and report safety hazards, involving them in procedural planning encourages safety participation.

Develop a positive workplace culture is also critical, especially since almost one quarter of apprentices suffer bullying, potentially leading to mental health issues and even suicide.

Providing mentoring and social support helps young workers engage with their work environment socially, appealing to their desire to fit in with their peers.

Tasks or causes of injury that young workers may be more vulnerable to:

  • Operating plant and machinery
  • Using hand tools and knives
  • Manual handling
  • Contact with electricity
  • Working on or around vehicles and quad bikes
  • Working at heights
  • Workplace violence or bullying

Good work design for young workers includes:

  • Induction and training
  • Supervision and feedback
  • Support and mentoring


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