Teens at work

Studies show that workers under the age of 25 are four times more likely to be injured during their first month on the job than at any other time. This is where First Job Safe Job comes in

Mother and daughter having a talk about workplace safety at home. Photo Credit Getty Images (Courtesy of WSPS)


Pamela Patry remembers when her son, now 17, was looking for his first job. “He was so excited when he got his first invitation for an interview,” says the mother of two. “As a parent, it should have been a red flag that in the 10 years of living in this community, this business had always had a ‘help wanted’ sign posted.”


Patry’s son was like many other young workers — “excited for their first pay cheque and some financial independence,” she says. “They’re preoccupied, have a sense of invincibility, a ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality. They have a low-risk perception, when in fact they are vulnerable and actually at higher risk. Because they feel a sense of pride and want to do a good job, they may forget about all the times we’ve reminded them to be safe.”

Pamela Patry. Photo Courtesy WSPS

Parents don’t want to downplay this momentous experience for their teens, but Patry says there needs to be a balance. A health and safety consultant for the past nine years with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) — a not-for-profit organization committed to making workplaces safer for Ontario’s workers by supporting businesses in implementing their safety programs — Patry is here to help with that.


“As parents, we don’t even realize how dangerous jobs can be and the likelihood of injury in their first days at work,” Patry says. “We spend so much time preparing our kids for life, we set them up for success, and we are just as excited as them when they get their first jobs — we assume the employer is going to care and take care of them too — unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.”


Every job has hazards, says Patry, “even tutoring, babysitting and working in various sport environments.” Injury could result from falls, sprains and strains, chemicals or even psychological harm. As our teens move into the more formal job settings, like working at gas stations, fast food restaurants, manufacturing/processing plants, and other service environments, they begin to be exposed to other hazards, like moving parts, mobile equipment, or even violence and harassment from customers or co-workers. In fact, according to WSPS — which serves more than 174,000 member firms and 4.2 million workers — people under the age of 25 are four times more likely to be injured during their first month on the job than at any other time.


“By definition, they lack experience,” Patry says of young people. “For many, their first job is their most dangerous job. Young workers, whether employed as temporary, part-time or summer workers, may feel pressured to do their jobs, keep their heads down and avoid asking questions or raising concerns, largely because they want to keep their jobs. Young workers have a unique risk profile that, by virtue of their inexperience and their desire to please, puts them at greater risk.”

Yet research conducted by the Workers Comp Division B.C. shows that youth and their parents identify drugs, stress, drinking and driving as being of far greater risk than dangerous work habits.

“I think it is because of what is picked up and amplified through media and what is trending within peer groups,” she says. “Workplace fatalities, critical injuries are not top of mind until it becomes a reality. In a community where a young worker fatality or critical injury occurs, there will be lots of information about worker safety in the immediate aftermath, but over time the news cycle moves on to other trending current events. Unless an individual feels personally susceptible, that this could actually happen to them or a loved one, the message doesn’t hit home.”

The law for all workplaces in the province, the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act is based on the internal responsibility system where the employer, supervisor and worker all have shared responsibilities to keep all workers safe. The worker also has a role to play in workplace safety, but the employer must inform workers of the hazards in the workplace, provide safety gear and training, implement and enforce appropriate workplace health and safety policies and do everything reasonable to protect workers from work-related injuries and illnesses. But Patry says safety doesn’t have to be difficult.

“There are simple — and free — solutions that businesses of any size can implement in their workplace,” Patry says, and there is help. In addition to delivering health and safety awareness presentations in schools across Ontario, WSPS launched its First Job Safe Job website earlier this year.

With the goal of helping parents and caregivers start the health and safety conversation with teens embarking on their first jobs, First Job Safe Job features tools including myth busters, checklists, Q&As and advice so parents can help young people can make smart decisions that will keep them safe at work. “All workers have a role to play,” says Patry. “They need to be able to recognize and report hazards and unsafe situations to their supervisors. It is going take a collective effort, starting with parental guidance, reinforced at the educational level, and put into practice at the employment level.”



How to talk to your teen about workplace safety


When your teen is ready to work, there are many conversations to be had

from helping them prep their resume to workplace etiquette, says Pamela Patry, but most important is a discussion around safety and understanding rights.

  • Tell teens they have the right to know the hazards in the workplace, and how to keep themselves safe
  • Tell them they have the right to right to refuse unsafe work
  • Ensure they have the confidence to exercise their rights
  • Try a “car talk,” says Patry. “To me, this is a time where I can have boring or difficult conversations with my teens. We are in an enclosed environment, neither of us are going anywhere and there is a definite end time to the chat. Since we are looking forward out the windshield, we are able to avoid eye contact which may feel confrontational to your teen.”
  • Check out WSPS’s Safe for Work, a social media-focused campaign that generates new, relatable content, and collaboration with influencers for young workers


Common injuries

The majority of injuries occur in the service (restaurants and retail stores), agricultural and manufacturing sectors. These include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Bruises, contusions and concussion
  • Being struck by or against an object
  • Overexertion
  • Falls


Useful websites