New to the workplace: safety implications for inexperienced workers

“Now Hiring” and “Help Wanted” signs hang in store windows and in front of many businesses around the John Newquist community.

“There’s a real market for workers,” said the former OSHA regional manager, who runs his own training company. “It’s just a nightmare to hire people. Either you’re trying to get them out of high school and training them, or you’re trying to get a lot of publicity.

This is a nationwide phenomenon. As employers struggle to fill vacancies, many are turning to inexperienced workers — of all ages.

“When we talk about inexperienced workers, my first thought goes directly to younger employees, but that’s not necessarily the case,” said Bruce Loughner, technical safety adviser for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. “In today’s world, you can have older workers starting a job they’ve never done before.”

This presents an additional challenge for safety professionals: a greater number of workers who are unfamiliar with the risks and hazards associated with their role.

Inexperience and injuries

“Inexperienced workers are usually eager to show the employer that they are valuable,” Loughner said. “So they may want to impress the employer to gain their trust and respect. Sometimes they will take more risks to improve their productivity, take a shortcut, or follow another unestablished safety procedure or protocol.

All of these can increase the risk of injury. Non-fatal injuries among workers with less than three months on the job rose 8.4% in 2020, according to Injury Facts – an online source of preventable death and injury statistics compiled by the National Safety Council.

A 2019 case study report on Tennessee construction workers released by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training concluded that between 2014 and 2015, nearly half of injured workers were on the job less of 12 months.

OSHA spokesperson Kim Darby recommends that employers in all industries conduct job safety analyzes to identify hazards that inexperienced workers may face. “Your OSHA 300 log or workers’ compensation records are a good source of information about the most common hazards in your workplace,” she said.

“Robust” integration

Photo: PeopleImages/iStockphoto

When workers enter a new role, especially in an industry that is also new to them, security must be introduced immediately through the onboarding process. This process “has to be robust, and it just can’t cover the bare minimum,” Loughner said. “It is important to have a strong integration program. This needs to go well beyond security orientation and compliance issues.

Kim Esposito is director of safety and risk management for HSC Builders & Construction Managers, based in Exton, Pennsylvania. During onboarding, she sits down with new hires and a safety manager to talk about the organization’s safety manual, 360-degree job site safety checks, processes and procedures, and knowledge of the situation.

“Just having that extra discussion about it at the start helps,” said Esposito, who is also a member of the Mid-Atlantic Construction Safety Council’s executive committee. “When they go there, they think and say, ‘OK, let me do a 360 and check my area.'”

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