Water Cooler Survey (Nov. 2014): Is your workplace safe? YOU decide

safetyBy Melany Hallam

Take the survey at www.careerlinkbc.com

It’s possible to get hurt on the job in just about any workplace, but I imagine that most people picture an industrial setting when they think of workplace injuries. Not so. In fact, restaurants are the number-one location for young worker injuries. The second most common workplace is supermarkets, followed by general retail. Injuries include such things as knife slices, strains, fractures, and severe burns.

 

You may have noticed that I’ve specified “young” workers here. That’s because, according to WorkSafeBC, young workers are at a much higher risk of injury than workers of any other age group. Here are some stats to ponder:

  • Each hour in BC one young worker is hurt on the job.
  • Each day in BC, 36 young workers are hurt on the job.
  • Every week, five of these workers are permanently injured.
  • In 2003, nine young workers were killed in work-related accidents.

But why is the safety record so dismal for young workers? WorkSafeBC research found a list of common reasons, including:

  • Inexperience and lack of training
  • Lack of confidence or understanding of their rights as workers
  • Lack of preparation for the workplace
  • Asked to do more dangerous jobs
  • Sense of youthful invincibility
  • Unwillingness to ask questions
  • Distracted – thinking of other things happening in their lives, i.e. homework, socializing, that new car, etc.
  • Pace of work

There are many things that you as a younger worker (or anyone, really) can do to prevent injury at work. Officially, the majority of these things involve rules and regulations set up by WorkSafeBC and followed by unions, employees, and management—and that’s fine, they have their place.

However, unofficially, I would argue that the most important thing you can do as a worker is use your common sense. Be aware of where you are and what’s happening around you. Learn to use equipment properly and don’t scoff at all that awkward or silly safety equipment. If you’re doing something that’s potentially dangerous, make sure other workers around you are aware of this. And if you think a task is too dangerous, you have the right to refuse to do it without fear of losing pay or hours.

Knowing that you followed the rules is no compensation if you still get hurt (or hurt someone else) because you were oblivious or distracted.

I know of what I speak! I haven’t always had a desk job. As a young university student, one of my summer jobs was as a surface worker at a nickel mine. One day, two other student labourers and I had the unenviable task of hosing out the crud at the bottom of a drained settling tank. We did all the right things: kitted out in safety gear, tagged out the valves to the tank (so that no one would turn them on accidentally), and had someone watching out for us outside the tank. But just one minute before we were about to crawl back in after lunch, hundreds of gallons of boiling hot water came gushing out the entry hatch. We came that close to severe full-body burns or even death because someone else working nearby thought the tag on the valve was an old one. I got the impression at the time that workers at the mine were notorious for not removing tags after completing a job, or not using them at all.

My point here is that the student labourers were treated as a group apart from the full-time workers—we were just not on their radar. Perhaps if we’d been more confident in ourselves—and more aware of the potential dangers—we would have insisted on a real person watching the valves instead of just a ratty old paper tag. But we didn’t know the workplace culture and we naively believed that everyone else would follow the rules, as we did. In the end, it was just dumb luck that saved us.

This is an extreme example, but I hope you take it to heart. The bottom line is that you are the only one who can be responsible for your own safety at work.

For more official advice, regulations, and research see:

 

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