Photo courtesy WorkSafe BC
Four students from Hugh Boyd Secondary School created a winning video for WorkSafeBC’s contest. Aimed at young workers’ safety, Keerthana Ramanathan, Talia Aarons, Olivia Topp, and Alicia Zhang created a video entitled, Listen to Your Gut showing what happens when young workers do and don’t listen to their gut when it comes to safety.
Coming out on top of a field of 45 entries 30 schools across B.C., the Hugh Boyd winners were four of the over 150 students participating in the contest. They won in the Grade 8 to 10 category.
“Since 2006, the contest has received 607 entries and approximately 2000 students have participated. The contest is open to B.C. students in Grades 8-12 and entries are judged on the impact of their safety message, original creative concept, and technical execution,” says WorkSafeBC’s government and media relations officer, Erica Simpson.
Why the theme, Listen to your gut? According to WorkSafeBC’s Trudi Rondou, WorkSafeBC senior manager of industry and labour services, before a young worker gets hurt, “They had a feeling, in most cases people have a feeling something’s wrong, something didn’t seem just quite right.”
The reason for this push, according to Rondou, is that young workers are the most likely to be injured on the job.
“You can look at the stats on paper; on average, 14 young workers are seriously injured every week in BC. The reality is, that’s half a classroom full of young people every week,” she says. That is why WorkSafe has a new two-pronged approach to young worker safety.
The first prong of the program educates the young workers. That’s where the videos come in:
“In most cases they had a feeling something’s wrong, something didn’t seem just quite right. So we wanted to focus on that empowerment. Listen to your gut,” says Rondou.
If something at work is dangerous, first speak with your boss. If that doesn’t work, phone WorkSafe BC anonymously.
“Our officers are experts at keeping that anonymity,” says Rondou.
The second prong in the campaign tasks employers with the responsibility to teach and keep teaching young workers how to do their job safely from the get-go, and to make it part of the work attitude each day. WorkSafeBC looked for companies to work with.
“We really wanted employers who were role models and industries where young people were employed.” Rondou says.
Clint Mahlman CEO for the Richmond-based chain, London Drugs. “My role is to remind owners and managers that it doesn’t happen on its own. With young workers, it’s not going to be first question they ask. We need to make this part of the daily conversation about how work is conducted in a safe manner.” Mahlman also says safety has to become a value, and not just an expectation that workers are safe.
Why London Drugs? When Rondou discovered that London Drugs had a practice of sending letters to young workers’ parents, letting them know what the chain is doing for their kids’ safety, “I thought was a wonderful way to go above and beyond,” she says.
“Workplace safety doesn’t just happen on its own,” says Mahlman.
He adds, “It’s often not the obvious large, industrial accidents. We forget the service industry is the largest employer in BC, and they employ young workers. There are other dangers that can be just as devastating, whether it be scalding, slip and fall in a restaurant, or cut injuries in grocery retail, or servers that slip.”
Mahlman suggests a third prong to young worker safety, “Safety should be part of daily conversation with parents, aunts and uncles. You need to have kitchen table conversations where you ask, ‘What is your employer saying about safety?’”
Rondou says, “I think a lot of parents assume that when their kids are on the job someone will be looking after them the way we look after them and sadly that’s not the case, so you have the conversation before hand. Talk to them about this”
Young worker safety strikes at the heart of all who participate in the program. As sports reporters say, everyone has some skin in the game be it the young workers themselves, employers or the people at WorkSafeBC.
For the Hugh Boyd students, they and their friends are the young workers directly affected.
For Rondou too, this program hits close to home: “I have three (kids) of my own. Two have hit the workforce. People sort of take it for granted, ‘I work in a restaurant so I get a lot of cuts,’ but that’s not necessarily the case. We should stop thinking of cuts and burns as a normal part of the food service industry.”
For Mahlman, “Workplace safety doesn’t just happen on its own. As a young worker myself I had some near misses.” It is even more important today, he says, “I’ve got kids of my own, so I’m very sensitive to the safety issues that can impact young workers.”
WorkSafeBC’s Rondou stresses, “If you feel something is unsafe have the conversation with your supervisor or employer.”
Both she and Mahlman say to trust your instincts because most workers injured on the job, especially young workers, had a feeling that what they were doing was unsafe. As the Hugh Boyd team’s winning video says, Listen to Your Gut.