By Michael Wood
One of the critical attributes of our collective approach to workplace health and safety here in Oregon is the effectiveness of our collaborative efforts. And those efforts are most exciting, at least from my perspective, when Oregon OSHA is simply one of several players sitting at the table. Oregon's efforts to promote young worker safety are certainly one case in point.
The Oregon Young Employee Safety coalition, known as O[yes], took shape several years ago as a result of conversations with a number of groups who realized we shared a common interest in addressing the safety and health of teenagers as they entered the workplace. Young worker safety not only has an immediate importance, but it also will provide benefits over the longer term.
Workplace safety is often a matter of habit. And it is also a matter of expectation. But both our habits and our unspoken expectations are defined relatively early in our careers. And it can be difficult to change those habits – or to develop healthier expectations of our employers and our co-workers – if we wait too long to tackle the issue.
I remember touring a construction jobsite more than a decade ago. When asked what the biggest safety issue he faced was, the site superintendent answered (without hesitation) "workers over 40." The truth was that even though they often had experiences that should have demonstrated the importance of safety and health, they also were most likely to be "set in their ways" and resistant to doing things differently.
For that reason, if we can successfully educate today's young workers on the importance of workplace health and safety, we are also educating the workers of tomorrow – the work we do today will pay dividends in 2013 and 2014, but we will also see those dividends in 2023, 2033, 2043, and beyond.
It was that vision that brought a group of organizations and individuals together. That group has produced resources for instructors, sponsored young worker events at GOSH, and worked to raise the profile of young worker safety. One of the most visible successes, of course, is the annual young worker workplace safety video contest that is in the midst of its fourth year.
None of this just happened, of course. It has required the hard work of a number of people, including several at Oregon OSHA, and it has required the support of a range of organizations. The list of members and sponsors is an impressive one, including government agencies, employers, insurers, and educational institutions. You can find the complete list – as well as access to useful resources – at the O[yes] website at www.youngemployeesafety.org.
It's worth a look, especially if you have young workers as part of your team. And if you haven't seen this year's video contest finalists, you definitely should take a look at youtube.com/user/OregonSafetyHealth.
Oregon OSHA Administrator
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