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Northeast Young Worker Safety Workshop

On March 31, 2003, more than 40 public health and occupational safety professionals convened in Newton, Massachusetts to discuss effective strategies for preventing work-related injuries to young people. This event, the Northeast Young Worker Safety Workshop, was sponsored by the Young Worker Safety Resource Center (YWSRC), a project of Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and the University of California Berkeley. YWSRC is funded by OSHA under a Susan Harwood grant.

The YWSRC provides training and materials to teachers, job placement professionals, employers and others in a position to reach adolescents with work-related information. The staff of the YWSRC have developed and disseminated two basic occupational safety curricula (Worksafe! and Safe Work/Safe Workers), and they train professionals how to use this curricula with the young people they serve. Due to limitations of funding, the YWSRC operates primarily in the Northeast and California.

Every year, 200,000 American teens are injured on the job. Approximately 77,000 are injured seriously enough to require treatment in emergency departments. Thousands are hospitalized. And, every year, about 70 American teenagers are killed while on-the-job. Teenagers are injured on the job at a rate higher than that of adults-despite the fact that teens are prohibited by child labor laws from working in the most hazardous industries.

Following a welcome and introduction from Marthe Kent, Regional Administrator of OSHA Region I, participants heard from speakers representing a broad range of expertise on young worker safety. These included:

  • Maggie Carey, a parent-advocate who lost her son in a tragic work-related incident, and has become an effective advocate for protecting young workers.
  • Robin Dewey, from the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California-Berkeley, who has developed a program for teaching occupational safety to youth with learning disabilities
  • Letitia Davis, Director of the Massachusetts Occupational Health Surveillance Program, who described Massachusetts' state-of-the-art project to collect data on occupational injuries to young people that is used to better understand this problem and to target efforts to prevent such injuries.
  • Mary Miller, from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, who described an innovative project that trains restaurant supervisors to better protect the safety of their teen workers.

Participants also heard from a panel representing Federal agencies involved in protecting young workers:

  • Carol Stephenson, Chief, Training Research, NIOSH, spoke about that agency's efforts to have occupational safety and health included in workforce education. Recent developments in this area included:
    • The NIOSH New & Young Worker Safety and Health Training Project Final Report
    • National Association of State Directors of Career Education Consortium and its Career Clusters Initiative, which seeks to determine occupational safety and health foundation skills appropriate for all 16 Career Clusters (groups of occupations and industries that are used by schools and other institutions to help create educational plans for their students based on the knowledge and skills needed in each cluster).
  • Dawn Castillo, Chief, Surveillance and Field Investigations Branch, Division of Safety Research, NIOSH, presented updates in three areas of activity by NIOSH:
    • Epidemiology, including newly released reports on acute pesticide-related illnesses among working youth and nonfatal injuries to young workers in the retail trades and services industries.
    • Health communications, including a joint NIOSH-United States Department of Labor initiative on forklift safety for young workers that included a mailing to 10,000 warehouse and home improvement retailers.
    • Policy, including NIOSH recommendations for changes to hazardous orders relevant to young worker safety.
  • Elise Handelman, Director, Office of Occupational Health Nursing, OSHA, spoke about efforts to make the available information accessible to a wide audience. To do this, OSHA has:
    • Established a Teen Worker Web Page.
    • Organized a Teen Safety Work Group and a meeting of 29 government agencies to discuss the resources that are available and how agencies can better make use of one another's resources.
  • Joe DiJulia, Assistant District Director, Region I Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, discussed the greater emphasis that the Wage and Hour Division is placing on education and prevention, in addition to their traditional job of responding to complaints.

In addition, representatives from each state in the region shared educational, legislative, and workplace-based strategies for reducing injuries among teen workers, including:

  • training vocational education teachers in integrating occupational safety into the curricula;
  • working with a state Girl Scouts Council to institute a merit badge for occupational safety;
  • sponsoring an annual work safety poster contest for students;
  • developing a young worker safety resource network to provide teens, parents, and employers with information and resources;
  • educating children about safety in the workplace on the World Wide Web; and
  • rewarding employers who complete a workshop in occupational safety by issuing "Safe Place To Work" certificates.

The Northeast Young Worker Safety Workshop is also notable for the participation of OSHA Compliance Assistance Specialists (CASs) from the states in the Northeast region. Marthe Kent, Regional Administrator and Doug Edwards, CAS Coordinator for the Regional OSHA office, encouraged the CASs to attend the workshop. This marks the first time that New England Compliance Assistance Specialists have come together as a group to learn and share strategies that will promote the safety of young workers. CASs provide outreach, training, education, and assistance in complying with Federal labor laws to businesses, labor unions, and other organizations. Workshop participants learned about the ways the CASs are promoting young worker safety through outreach to employers, community groups and teens.

On April 1, 2003 the Compliance Assistance Specialists in Region I reconvened in Newton for training in the use of curricula designed to teach young people how to remain safe on the job. These curricula (Worksafe! and Safe Work/Safe Workers) were developed by staff of EDC and University of California Berkeley with funding from NIOSH. The training package consists of a curriculum for teaching high school students about occupational safety and health, a 10-minute video tape (Teens: the hazards we face in the workplace), and a 20-minute power point presentation. Hundreds of teachers and job trainers, and thousands of teens have used these curricula over the past five years. The CASs were encouraged to use the curricula activities when they are invited to give presentations to high school students and/or employers.

For more information, please contact Doug Edwards, Compliance Assistance, Partnership and Alliance Programs Manager, OSHA Region I, at Douglas Edwards.

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