Is This Your Young Worker?

Photo credit - NIOSH Youth@Work: Talking Safety Oregon

In a previous blog we shared a story about an employer committed to making work safe for its young employees. Sadly, at CROET and O[yes] we have heard other stories from young workers who haven’t been so lucky at work. Below we share words from an 18-year old Oregonian who asked to remain anonymous. Might a young person you know have a similar story?

Getting a job is exciting, but it comes with a lot of responsibility. I got my very first job as a junior in high school in an ice cream shop.  I felt so lucky to get hired. Of course I knew that I would be learning lots of new skills and it would be difficult at first, but I wasn’t really prepared for the responsibility I was given. The problem with working at a young age is that we aren’t able to fully take responsibility and protect ourselves, because we do not know what our rights are. I went into this job with the belief that I would be treated as a responsible young adult should be treated. I was not, however, prepared to stand up for myself as an employee when uncomfortable situations came up.

The first thing we must know as young workers is that we have rights. We have the right to be safe, and we have the right to know and follow necessary safety training in order to protect ourselves from injuries. I remember a few times where I was badly cut by the blender at work, simply because I did not know the ability to hurt myself on it even existed. I never told my boss, because I was too embarrassed and afraid I might be fired. Looking back on it now, however, I should have said something. After all, I was never warned that this could happen, and no one had taught me what to do in the case of an injury. I had nothing to be embarrassed about, and I should have spoken up. That’s the most important part of being a young worker, in my opinion.

Another day, I was working alone, and I temporarily got locked in the freezer. There is a knob that we push in order to get out, but it was frozen, and I couldn’t get it to unlock. Luckily, after a few minutes of shoving my body against the wall, I was able to get the door unlocked. It was one of the scariest moments I have been through, because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get out of there alive. I’m lucky that, this time, nothing bad happened, nor did it the many nights I closed up the shop alone at night.

The point of these stories is to show you that even working somewhere as simple as an ice cream shop, you must know your rights. We all must be aware that it is our right as young workers to be treated well, and receive the safety training that we deserve. If your boss fails to walk you through safety training, you have every right to (and should) ask about safety training. Work can be difficult, but it should never be uncomfortable or frightening.  Through this first job experience, I learned the importance of speaking up. Please don’t be afraid to speak up when you have a question, or are uncomfortable doing something your boss asks you to do. And remember, your boss is not legally allowed to fire you for asking a question about safety, or refusing to perform a task that in your mind is dangerous. Speak up, work hard, and be safe!

NIOSH Resources for Young Workers
Oregon Young Employee Safety Coalition – O[yes]
CROETweb Topic: Young Workers

One response to “Is This Your Young Worker?

  1. With young workers, employers need to take extra time to train them, and to monitor them. It may be their first job ever, so not only are younger workers developing their skills, they need some extra TLC to make sure that they are working safely and effectively. Better training will add to both the young employee’s success and the success of the organization overall.

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