The excitement of earning money, gaining experience, and building confidence is typically what drives a teenager to want to work during the summer months. However, most teens enter the working world wide-eyed with a limited understanding of worker rights and safety. To help educate young workers on hazard prevention and the importance of speaking up, the Oregon Young Employee Safety Coalition (O[yes]) sponsors a young worker safety video contest each year. The event provides a platform for peer-to-peer education and offers a little financial incentive. O[yes] says the goal is to increase outreach and to prevent workplace injuries by helping employers establish safer workplaces and policies, and by helping young workers understand the importance of workplace safety and communication.
Teens in the U.S. workforce roughly account for 4.5% of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). The top industries that hire teen workers are:
- Food prep and service
- Transportation and material handling
- Building cleaning and maintenance
- Construction and extraction
Teen workers are twice as likely to receive injuries on the job, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Common causes range from wanting to prove they can handle a job to not receiving adequate training that is understandable for their age group.
In 2015, 24 teens died from work injuries ranging from pizza delivery car crashes and severe fryer grease burns to hazards from electrical equipment and falls from ladders or slippery surfaces. In 2017, 680 youth, age 17 and younger, reported injuries on the job in Washington, according to the state's Department of Labor & Industries. The U.S. Public Health Service is aiming to help reduce rates of work-related injuries among workers 15-19 years of age by 10 percent by the year 2020, according to the BLS.
Strategies to Protect Youth
It is the statistics and stories of teen injuries and deaths on the job that prompt government and organizations throughout the U.S. to help educate teen workers on safety. One way to develop and promote strategies to protect youth at work, O[yes] says, is through creative engagement. Using drama, music, humor, and creative characters, students throughout Oregon creatively produced a 90-second video based on the concept of speaking up about hazards at work, while also emphasizing ways to protect themselves and their co-workers. The submissions were judged on creativity, production value, youth appeal, and the overall safety and health message. Five finalists were chosen. Topics the teens covered included general workplace safety hazards and chemical safety. The top three will receive cash prizes of $300 to $500 from the program and matching funds from their respective schools.
A teen who puts himself in danger by not speaking up against an unsafe order by his boss is the basis for one winner, "Safety Joe: Pizza Time.” The students from Crescent Valley High School, Corvallis, received a nod for deftly blending voice-over narration, body language, and props to demonstrate how a young pizza place worker was needlessly instructed to put his safety on the line for a pizza delivery. While complying with his boss' orders, the teen is stopped during his delivery by Safety Joe. Safety Joe reminds the teen worker to speak up and work safe.
The videos from the finalists are available for viewing on YouTube.