Why Don’t Kids Get Workplace Health and Safety Training in School?

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t see someone on social media railing about how we should be teaching our kids financial literacy in high school.

Why don’t we teach kids about credit cards, mortgages, RRSPs or TFSAs? Why not make them aware of how debt works before sending them off to post-secondary with student loans?

To be honest, I don’t think it would change a thing if we did. Young people don’t take on student loans or credit card debt because they don’t know what a loan is; they do it because we haven’t offered any viable alternatives. We’ve all but eroded avenues to independence that don’t involve accumulating debt. Living debt-free is a fantasy for all but the most fortunate among us.

Here’s a better idea: if you want to teach kids something that will help them secure a better future, teach them about workplace safety.

Fact is, young workers are 30% more likely to be injured on the job than those over the age of 25. They account for 12.5% of all lost-time injury claims. And over 50% of incidents involving young workers occur during their first six months on the job.

Why are young workers at risk? It’s a combination of factors. Youth have less training and work experience; they’re less likely to understand their right to refuse unsafe work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act; they often feel pressured to do what they’re told and reluctant to question their superiors.

It goes without saying that all these factors are augmented when it comes to young workers who are otherwise vulnerable, particularly newcomers to Canada and youth living in poverty.

Ask anyone who’s ever worked in a retail, restaurant or general labour position as a youth and you’ll hear of at least tale one in which they were asked to perform dangerous work: climbing a tree without a harness to clear away brush, welding without eye protection, or confronting an aggressive customer alone.

I was once asked to crawl under a machine with massive moving parts to retrieve a fallen container while the machine was still operating. My supervisor rolled her eyes at my reluctance and told me to go home.

I knew my right to refuse unsafe work. Not everyone is so lucky. Teaching youth about workplace safety wouldn’t even be expensive; there are plenty of free resources on the subject available online and many third-party organizations that specialize in the area.

You can find more information on workplace safety training and classroom training for working at heights at PSHSA, Ontario’s Health and Safety organization for the public sector.

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