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Protect new and young workers through proper training

Cheryl DeCooman for Progressive Dairy Published on 04 May 2022

Young workers (ages 15 to 24) are three to four times more likely to be hurt on the job within the first six months of employment compared to the average Canadian worker.

According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), between 2011-15, 33 young workers died in work-related incidents. In the same time period, there were 31,689 lost-time claims reported to WSIB.

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New workers can be any age and can have a variety of work experience. Even if they have experience in similar work environments, new workers are also more likely to be injured in the early months of employment or when they are assigned a new job. New workers are different from young workers because they may have been in the workforce for a significant period of time before they start at their new job. Regardless if a new worker has extensive experience completing similar tasks or working in similar work environments, it is still the employer’s responsibility to ensure they are provided proper orientation and training for the tasks and hazards in your specific workplace.

The term new worker can also apply to a person returning from an extended absence, such as sick leave or maternity leave, and to a person starting a new position within the same dairy. When starting in a new position or returning from a period of time away from the workplace, it is important to provide retraining to ensure the person remembers the relevant safety requirements and to ensure they are aware of any hazards and/or changes to the procedures and work conditions. The hazards these “new” workers face are just as dangerous, and therefore they are required to be trained and undergo the same orientation as newly hired employees. This training orientation also ensures they know how to do the job properly, safely and gives them the opportunity to ask questions.

It seems obvious that new and young workers require extra instruction and guidance to ensure they understand how to do the job safely, but we all know how that can be forgotten when we are in the middle of a busy day and everyone is just trying to take care of livestock.

We want everyone to practice safety, but we want to especially look out for new and young workers. Supervisors, managers and other experienced employees need to do their part to help new and young workers. These employees need extra training and supervision, and only as a team can we ensure they get the knowledge and support they need. It is a requirement of the Occupation Health and Safety Act and a needed step to prove due diligence.

Don’t rely on a worker’s previous experience alone

It was early one morning when Tom arrived at work and started preparing for his day. Tom had over 20 years of experience as a herdsperson, working on several different dairy farms, but had recently started working on a new dairy after relocating his family to be closer to his wife’s aging parents. During the first few days on the job, he had begun each day by helping another employee mix and prepare feed. On this day, he was the first to arrive, so he decided to get a head start. He had not operated a self-propelled mixer before but had seen the other employee use it each day and had driven many similar types of equipment in the past. He knew driving the mixer was going to be part of his job and felt confident that because of his previous experience he could operate this equipment without any issues.

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Unfortunately, Tom was not aware of the significant blind spots and had not positioned his mirrors properly; he was also a bit distracted trying to make sure he understood what each button controlled. As he backed out of the bunker, he didn’t realize he was unable to see the other employee walking behind his equipment. Luckily, the employee was able to jump out of the way of the reversing equipment, and was not injured but was certainly shaken up, as was Tom once he realized what had happened.

This situation was really eye-opening for Tom and for the owner of the dairy. They both realized that even though Tom had many years of experience operating all different types of farm equipment, it was important to make sure he knew how to safely operate the specific equipment on this dairy.

How can you help new and young workers stay safe?

  • Training – Ensure new employees receive training for their tasks before they begin doing the job. Training may include in-class or e-learning training, and will also include hands-on training and evaluation of competency. This is especially important when the new or young employee is operating equipment or completing a high-risk task. No one should be able to operate equipment or do high-risk work until training has been completed and they are deemed competent, even if they have previous experience. It is important to ensure all training, including practical evaluations, are documented. Even in the situation of Tom, who has years of experience, he still needs training on how to do jobs at a new operation.

    In Tom’s situation, he had not driven that specific type of equipment before. If Tom’s new employer had provided him proper training, he would have known about the risks and hazards associated with that equipment and taken the proper steps to operate safely. Additionally, training is not just for new employees; part of the due diligence of your operation’s health and safety program is to provide continuous training to employees, especially in scenarios where there was a near miss or accident, a new piece of equipment is purchased, an employee has had an extended absence, or a returning student is starting again for the summer, etc.

  • Provide new hire orientation – Tell new employees about the emergency evacuation plan and where to find emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers and first-aid kits. Show them the health and safety board and introduce their health and safety representative and first-aid certified employees. Make sure they understand any safety signage or other requirements in your workplace.

  • Correct employees when they make a mistake or do not follow the safety protocol – Always speak up if you see anyone performing a task unsafely. Don’t wait to tell a manager. Remind the worker how to work safely. Let the new or young worker know you’re available if they have any questions. Friendly reminders let all workers know safety comes first.

  • Ensure they wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and wear it properly – New and young workers may not know what PPE is required and when and how to use it. Provide training on PPE use, fit and storage.

  • Set a good example – One of the most important ways to teach new and young workers about safety is to set a good example and consistently model safe behaviour. New and young workers learn by watching others; show them how you work safely. Never take shortcuts. Keep your workplace safe, clean and organized. Ensure tools and equipment are in good condition. Point out hazards when you see them, and take actions to correct them. Speak up when you see unsafe behaviour, and get involved in health and safety programs. When modeling safe behaviour, explain why it’s important to you and others in the workplace. Explain how everyone works together to keep all workers safe.

Think of a time you were new in a job; you may have been scared to ask too many questions because you wanted your new boss to think you knew how to do your job. This is a mistake because there are serious risks of not understanding hazards on the job.

Starting a new job is an exciting but also anxious experience for everyone, regardless of their age or experience in the industry. Having a pre-determined, set new hire process, which includes training and documentation, helps to reduce the possibility of accidents and injuries. Providing proper training is an essential part of the new hire process to ensure they know how to do their job properly and, most importantly, safely. end mark

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or on Twitter and Instagram.

 References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

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Cheryl DeCooman

  • Cheryl DeCooman

  • President
  • People Management Group
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