High risk for new workers an ongoing issue

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pay special attention to safety training for new workers

Do you remember your first job – how long did it take you to get the hang of it? Whether delivering newspapers or pizzas, babysitting, or working at the local corner store or fast food restaurant, the first month of any new job is a challenging time. You’re learning the ropes and meeting new people – there’s a lot to learn. Do you remember any close calls with machinery, traffic, stairs, irate co-workers, or slippery floors?

In a changing, highly-competitive and technology-driven economy, our workforce is constantly adapting and evolving. The pace of work has become faster and more stressful, and the notion of permanent work is declining. With governments and industries at all levels downsizing, there’s a trend toward hiring casual and temporary workers. 

Workers may change jobs four to five times in their lives, and they need to stay on top of their own professional development. In terms of workplace health and safety, these economic realities have a negative and disturbing effect on new and young workers, according to the Institute for Work &  Health (IWH).

First month at work can be deadly

When you’re new on the job – whether it’s your first or third job – you’re at an extremely high risk for workplace injury and illness. Why? Because you’re unfamiliar with the terrain, processes, and culture.

  • New and young workers in Ontario are four times more likely to be injured on the job during the first month of employment than at any other time.

  • Between 2006 and 2010, 34 young workers died in work-related incidents, according to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) statistics, and more than 46,000 young workers received injuries serious enough to require time off work. 

  • New workers include both young workers aged 14 to 24 years, as well as those aged 25 and older who have been on the job for less than six months, or assigned to a new job.

Stories like the one about David Ellis are a tragic reminder of the importance of health and safety training for new and young workers. David had just finished high school and took a temporary job in a bakery to save up for university in the fall. In the summer of 2000, the 18-year-old was removing cookie dough from an industrial mixer when the machine was activated. He was drawn into the mixer and died six days later of massive head injuries. It was his second day on the job. If David were alive today, he would be 31. His family has created a foundation and, as you’ll see in this video, Will You Think of Dave?, often speak publicly at events and schools to help educate others about the importance of workplace safety and training.

Newness - not youth - is key risk factor

After motor vehicle incidents, workplace injuries are the second leading cause of death among young people in Canada. With intensive efforts at raising youth awareness, the good news is that the Ontario youth injury rate has declined steeply -- so much so, that it has converged with the adult rate. 

While Ontario claim rates for work injury and illness have been declining, workers who are new on the job still remain at much higher risk for injury than experienced workers. This finding underscores the importance of workplaces paying special attention when any worker is new in the job.

A study last year by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) found that there is a persistent higher injury risk for new workers. The higher risk among new workers was noticeable over a ten-year period, suggesting that workplaces need to do more to ensure new workers get the training and supervision they need.

“The higher injury rate among new workers is a persistent problem,” says IWH scientist Dr. Curtis Breslin, who led the research and co-authored the paper. Rather than a snapshot, earlier research was extended over a ten-year period from 1999 to 2008, examining the association between work injury and length of time on the job.

Two main research findings

1. Risk highest first month on the job

Over a 10-year period, the risk of work injury for new workers has consistently remained higher compared to those employed at a job for more than one year. Risk is especially high during the first month on the job, with over three times the risk of injury compared to workers with more than a year’s job experience.

2. Older – not younger – workers at highest risk

The risk of work injuries among new workers is greater among older workers, men, and those in the goods sector, which includes construction and manufacturing, among others, says the IWH study. The age-based findings are striking, says Dr. Breslin. While all workers have a high risk of injury in their first month, the risk is highest for workers over 45 years of age. 

“The key risk factor is newness, not youth,” says Dr. Breslin. New workers may be at greater risk on the job due to a number of things, including a lack of experience and inadequate safety training, and contemporary work trends are making the problem worse. 

“The growth of precarious forms of work means more temporary employment, a higher proportion of workers with shorter job tenure, and higher rates of job turnover,” he says. “If frequent job changing continually puts a worker at high risk, then job turnover becomes a potential health and safety issue.”

How to help new workers

Companies can reduce risks to new workers by developing an effective safety management system and promoting policies and practices that reduce job turnover, encourage permanent employment, and improve job security.

Another study found that only one in five Canadians receives safety training in their first year of a new job, so researchers also propose increasing new workers’ knowledge of their workplace by ensuring that they get proper safety training and supervision. This will soon become mandatory in Ontario under Bill 160.

Mandatory health and safety training coming in 2014

Is your organization prepared to meet new provincial workplace health and safety training standards? The next issue of Every Worker e-newsletter will take an in-depth look at the new requirements to help organizations prepare for compliance. In the meantime, take extra special care with new workers to create a savvy, safe workforce.

How WSN helps

WSN offers high-quality training courses that address the specific needs of Ontario's forestry, mining and paper, printing and converting industries. WSN trainers specialize in adult education and have many years’ experience in both the workplace and the classroom. 

Free Resources
New and Young Worker Employer Guide

Risk Assessment Assistance
Call or email WSN today for help to strengthen and optimize your workplace safety program.

Confidential Consultation
Call toll-free in Ontario 1-888-730-7821 or email info@workplacesafetynorth.ca. 

About WSN: Workplace Safety North believes illnesses and injuries can and must be prevented. An independent not-for-profit health and safety organization, WSN is a leading provider of health and safety training and consulting for Ontario mining, forestry, paper, printing and converting sectors. WSN was formed by the 2010 amalgamation of three key safety associations: Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association (MASHA), Ontario Forestry Safe Workplace Association (OFSWA), and the Pulp and Paper Health and Safety Association (PPHSA). For more information, please visit www.workplacesafetynorth.ca.


Workplace Safety North
Every worker, home safe and healthy.