Workplace injury rates rise during the summer months. When summer rolls around, companies in many sectors, including agriculture and construction, significantly increase production.
Increased road construction raises risks for workers and drivers. Many of the newly hired workers are young and inexperienced, creating a high potential for workplace injuries.
Toiling in the sun is also a leading cause of weather-related injuries, including heat stroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Heat illnesses occur when the body overheats to the point it cannot cool off, even with profuse sweating.
Too often, young workers enter the workforce with little or no on-the-job safety training, heightening safety risks.
Recently, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries released a report showing that teens are twice as likely to be hurt on the job as adults.
In Washington state, a total of 547 youths aged 17 and under were injured in the workplace in 2014, up nearly 14.7% over the previous year. Of the total, 173 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 80, was reported in both the retail trades and agriculture.
Falls to the floor increased 77%, to 55 cases, as the chief cause of injury.
Young workers, aged 14 to 24, have more accidents because they lack the knowledge, training and experience to prevent them. Some common issues employers encounter with young workers are:
• They do not understand what can go wrong.
• They do not always follow the rules.
• They fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE), or use it incorrectly.
• They horse around on equipment.
• They do not ask questions.
• They think they are infallible.
It’s also important for supervisors to recognize the physical, cognitive and emotional developmental differences between young and adult workers. It takes extra effort to train and supervise seasonal employees on working safely.
Here are some training suggestions:
• Repeatedly demonstrate job procedures and safety precautions. Don’t overlook the basics, such as starting and stopping equipment.
• The step-by-step instructions for any task must include the task’s hazards and how to avoid them. Take the time to clearly explain the risks of not following the proper steps. Use examples.
• Explain when and how to use PPE, as well as where to get it, how to inspect it, and how to remove and store it properly.
• Train one-to-one with young workers and observe them performing tasks.
• Encourage them to report problems and to ask questions.
• Assign specific clean-up tasks and emphasize the importance of a clean, clutter-free worksite.
• Control the hours worked. Many popular summer jobs, such as construction workers, landscapers and jobs in hospitality and food industries, require long hours of work in the heat that can lead to fatigue, inattention and stress, increasing the likelihood of injury.
• Provide a mentor.
• Demonstrate that safety is a priority at your facility. Words aren’t enough. New workers also need to see actions that reinforce the message: clean worksite, properly labeled hazardous substances and readily accessible safety data sheets, workers wearing required PPE and who are concerned about workplace safety and show it, and so on.
Heat illness dangers
While there are many excellent resources on dealing with heat, it’s important for employers to recognize that there are individual differences among workers and those who are struggling may be hesitant to complain.
The American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites because the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.
Workers new to outdoor jobs are particularly vulnerable. Implementing an acclimatization program, providing adequate water and frequent breaks are all critical, but the best way for employers to prevent heat illnesses is to consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling and provide current information on weather conditions.
Also, using apps, such as OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool, is a good way for workers to monitor their risk levels. You can find it here.