SOURCE: University of Calgary

University of Calgary

April 20, 2015 10:00 ET

Teens especially reluctant to speak up about unsafe work environments, study finds

Even informal work arrangements like lawn-mowing and babysitting can present some hazardous conditions

CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - April 20, 2015) - Many young workers face unsafe working conditions and may need to speak up about safety at work, says Haskayne School of Business professor Nick Turner.

Turner is co-author of a research study appearing in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research that shows about a third of children as young as their early teens who work part-time have experienced at least one job-related injury in the last month, and may also not know how to respond when faced with hazardous work situations.

The study conducted by Turner, Sean Tucker of the University of Regina, and Kevin Kelloway of Saint Mary's University, examined the self-reported frequency of non-lost work time injuries, or "microaccidents," over a four-week period from a sample of over 19,000 young workers in Canada.

"The difference between a microaccident, with a young worker getting a treatable burn, and a young worker getting a more severe injury that would require hospitalization and may take them off work can all derive from the same event or set of conditions," Turner said.

Among the young workers sampled, the incidence of microaccidents was the highest among the youngest workers, aged 15 to 18. In addition, this group of young workers spoke up less frequently in the face of dangerous work and reported neglecting work safety rules more frequently than their older counterparts.

Although young males reported the same frequency of microaccidents as young females, young males reported speaking up more often in the face of dangerous work, but also neglecting work safety rules more often than young females.

"Many studies tend to focus on young workers recalling injuries over long or indeterminate periods -- asking 'have you ever been injured at work?' for example," he said. "What we're looking at here is injuries recalled more reliably over a shorter period of time as well as safety-related behaviours that could potentially keep young workers out of harm's way.

"Although work-related training for young workers is especially important, it is often complicated by informal work environments in which young people find themselves, such as babysitting or lawn-mowing, which nonetheless may contain hazardous work conditions, but are considered harmless," Turner said.

Also, young workers often work on part-time and different schedules -- summer or after-school -- that may place them on the periphery of the organizations in which they work.

"Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and co-workers can all help entrench the importance of work and attitudes of work in young workers, but when it comes to workplace safety, our research is showing it is the adult figure of influence in the workplace -- the supervisor -- who is the most important social influence.

"There's an opportunity for parents and teachers to educate about work, but this doesn't excuse the organizations and supervisors who employ them from taking responsibility for ensuring young worker safety -- and listening to young workers who speak about unsafe work conditions."

Turner and his colleagues are conducting further research on this topic, tracking young workers monthly over the course of a year to learn how their ongoing experience with work and on-the-job safety relates to their supervisors behaviours and expectations set early-on about the importance of safe work.

"Young workers with supervisors who show the young workers they care about safety are more inclined to speak up about dangerous work and this, in turn, seems to be related to lower workplace injuries."

Young workers are defined in many surveys or by policy as those between the ages of 15 to 25. "That's a big 10-year gap," Turner said. "There are lots of things going on at different points along those 10 years -- whether it's the accumulation of more work and life experience, or cognitive development in terms of physical risk-taking and judgment. A 15-year-old is very different from a 25-year-old."

More attention needs to be paid to the experience of the youngest of the young workers, he said.

About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

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