Your Work, Your Life – Safety in the Workplace

Did you know that 34 young workers are injured every working day? When you’re teenager entering the workplace for the first time, safety is usually the farthest thing from your mind. You have to worry about what happens with your boss, with your colleagues, with your assignments, but what about with you? Although policies are put into place in most establishments to help prevent accidents, there are still many things that could go wrong if you’re not careful. This is especially true for young workers like myself who lack the experience and judgement necessary to keep up to safety standards. So, what can people like me do to keep comfortable and out of trouble when at work? In our latest Career Life Education unit, we were given some of the answers.

Before starting this unit section, I questioned why it was important to learn about work safety. After all, shouldn’t it be your employer’s job to keep you safe? Shouldn’t the hazards be obvious? Well, it turns out that one of the biggest reasons that youth are at a higher risk of injury than other ages is due to these naive beliefs. For our first class in this unit section, we watched a video that showed what can happen if one does not take charge of their own workplace safety:

It was hard to watch this video to say the least. If you are not comfortable with viewing it for yourself, it is focused around four teenagers who had suffered various workplace accidents ranging from loosing fingers to becoming paralyzed. What made it so disturbing however, was actually not the graphic imagery. It was the fact that these teenagers held the same beliefs as I had, and no one had bothered to tell them otherwise. From this, I realized why learning about work safety is important. The people responsible for you in your workplace can’t watch you all of the time, and many severe dangers hide in plain sight. An example of this from the video was Jennifer Fourchalk, who lost three fingers to a bread rolling machine after her hand got caught in a chain. The machine was quite slow moving, so there was no reason for her to suspect any danger. There was no fault in her judgement; the only way that this could have been prevented would have been by her learning about the specific work safety practices at her establishment.

Work safety is something that people of all ages must be aware of, but it’s youth who need to be taught it the most. Why is this? After watching the Lost Youth video, we were tasked with watching another video that explained the work safe practices that employers must provide for young and new workers. According to the video, along with information from the last one:

These statistics were consistently higher than the ones for older people in the workforce, but why is this? What are the factors that make someone who would seemingly be more able bodied and have quicker reflexes more susceptible to danger? These two videos also provided reasons for this:

Learning the statistics isn’t useful if you don’t know what actually causes them. After we had watched the two videos, it was time to take a deep dive into the best resource a British Columbian worker  can get when it comes to work safety, which is the official WorkSafe B.C. OHS guide. Standing for the Occupational Health Safety manual, this booklet has a complete list of every hazard that an employee, young or old, may come across. Upon receiving this, we were assigned to locate specific regulations to fill out a multiple choice worksheet. At first, I thought that this would be a rather pointless and easy assignment, as from my knowledge in the places I work and am planning on working in, there wouldn’t be any major hazards. I once again however, realized that this belief was faulty. What makes so many workplace hazards so dangerous I discovered, is the fact that many of them you can’t see. High noise levels, cleaning chemicals, UV rays; all of these are things that workers are exposed to regularly, and can have long term negative impacts if not recognized. Some of the hazards that surprised me were:

It was scary at first for me to learn of all the hazards young workers can face. In the work that I do already, which mainly involves working with children, I can name a ton of situations where one or more of these dangers are commonly present. Luckily, the next step for our work safe exploration was to learn what could actually be done about these hazards. From my investigations, these precautions falls into three main categories:

“Knowledge is Power” – Francis Bacon

There is a fine line between what you are entitled to on the job, and what is asking too much. There is also a fine line between what is your responsibility, and what is the job of your superiors. Although you can get a general sense of where this line is can drawn from experience, the only way to know for sure is to find out your specific rights and responsibilities for the task at hand. Now how you can go about learning these can vary, but there are a few things that you should always consider doing. The first, and most obvious, is just to read the rules. If your employer provides you with a guide book, or you can find one online such as the OHS Guidelines, then take the time to read it as there might be some crucial knowledge in there that isn’t commonly discussed while on the job.

I personally learned how important reading the rules can be a few weeks ago, when I did poorly on a quiz which the material for I had studied for an entire month. I didn’t bother to take the time to read a small set of instructions properly before the test, and due to this missed a key aspect of the concepts. If failing to read the rules can have such a big effect on something as small as a quiz, then imagine what failing to read the rules can do in a position where your safety could be at risk. Another way that you can figure out your rights is by simply talking to your colleagues and superiors. They may have experience with employee rights that are specific to your job, and can help in complex situations. It is also always good to check from a legal standpoint if possible, such as a government website or the official guidelines for a company.

From the work we did in this unit, I learned that my rights and responsibilities are:

It may seem convenient in the moment to take a risk or ignore danger to complete a task, but is it really worth the potential long term consequences? The second thing which I learned can greatly reduce your chance of being injured on the job is to avoid hazards and risks. Now I know that sounds like common sense, and you think that you already do this in your everyday life, but avoiding hazards and risks can be a lot harder than it seems. Go through the list of everyday situations below, and ask yourself if you really do always take the safe path, or if you sometimes find the convenience of risk too hard to pass up

Some workplace hazards can’t be avoided, and when you come across one that can’t be, you have to make sure that you at least are using the proper equipment. When I first heard about this, I was under the impression that proper equipment for any job was a) a hard hat and maybe some gloves and b) always provided by your employer. Although in some cases both of these are true, some equipment such as proper footwear you will need to provide yourself, and there is an extensive list of safety equipment which might be needed use for specific situations. Some of these include:

However, equipment isn’t always physical. Gathering the proper training for a task, and making sure that your personal equipment (eg your muscles, mind, emotions, etc.) is fit for the job is just and important as wearing a hard hat. This was something we had recently touched on in our PGP class, when we learned about one of the 7 Habits known as sharpening the saw. To apply this to my life and my work, I have been making sure to get daily exercise, give myself mental breaks, and ask plenty of questions when developing new skills or trying new things.

As you can see, knowing how to staying safe in your work place can be a life saver or a skill to have (literally). I want to be able to share what I learned here with other youth entering new workplaces, and to do this, I have created the graphic below:

This artifact of my learning outlines the simplest, but most effective things one can do to stay away from danger on the job. The reason I created this design with such eye catching colours and shapes, is for the exact reason of being eye catching. I want people, even if they just scroll through this post and notice nothing else, to notice this, and hopefully take away something meaningful. To create it, I used the apps MagicPoser for the framework of the person, Keynote to build the person and the backgrounds, and Canva for a few of the titles. Creating the person actually took me around two hours, even though part of the reason I chose to make cubic art like this was because I thought it would take less time than hand drawing. Although I love how it turned out, this is a good lesson for me that sometimes I do need to consider things more carefully before diving right in, even if I have a great idea.

I hope you were able to take away some great lessons about staying work safe from my post, especially if you are a young worker like me. However, each working situation is drastically different, and everything I have mentioned needs to be modified in order to meet specific situations. So, how exactly am I and will I apply this knowledge to my work? To my life? Well, like I mentioned earlier, I do a lot of work with children (tutoring, babysitting, volunteering at summer camps). It’s great work, but there are definitely hazards that come with it. One that can be encountered quite often is biofluids, especially when there are injuries outdoors while playing games. To keep me and the children as safe as possible, I am making sure that when given the choice, I turn down cleaning it up myself, and instead I alert a properly trained adult. Another danger which I had no awareness of until now if the chance of hearing damage from tutoring trumpet. Due to the design of the instrument, as long as I make sure my student’s bell is facing away from me, I am not exposed to too high noise levels. Most of my jobs also require a lot of outdoor work, so I am always making sure that the children and I are protected against natural chemicals, weather, fall hazards, etc. by bringing along proper equipment such as jackets and water bottles.

Now how can this knowledge be applied to my future? To start off, somewhere that I am planning to apply to work at either this or next summer is Grouse Mountain. I’ve always wanted to have a job in the beautiful, open scenery of the mountain, but getting one may pose a few hazards. Luckily, one of the videos provided through our CLE course was this:

Armed with this knowledge of how the ideal training program for a Grouse Mountain Employee looks, I will now be able to (if a get the job) make sure that all of this is being provided to me, and if it is not I will apply other work safe knowledge (such as asking tons of questions and avoiding risky tasks) to keep myself safe. In the far future, I don’t see myself working in a very physical career, but that doesn’t mean that there still won’t be danger that I will need to look out for. There is a good chance part of my career will involve design technology for creating prototypes and models, and thinking back to the Lost Youth video, I will always make sure that I am properly trained on how to use them, and also know my rights and responsibilities so I can handle any uncomfortable situations from a place of knowledge. Repetitive and awkward tasks are another common, but hidden hazard faced in many jobs, and keeping an awareness of any motions which are becoming repetitive or awkward in my work will allow me to take action before problems occur.

When the topic of work safety was first brought up, I saw no value in it. I thought that I knew everything I would need to in order to keep myself protected, and that the systems put in place to protect workers were flawless. I now realize however, that it is just as much my responsibility to keep myself safe as it is for the people running a workplace. I need to know my rights, my responsibilities, my limits, and what I can do in any given situation to make sure I come out as healthy and comfortably as possible. Reflecting on all of this, I am glad we covered this topic, and I will make sure to apply my new found knowledge to everything I do in the future.

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