STEVEN LACEY, PHD, CIH, CSP, is AIHA’s president-elect and chair of Environmental Health Science at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He can be reached at (317) 274-3120 or selacey@iu.edu. REBECCA GUERIN, MA, is coordinator of the NIOSH Safe-Skilled-Ready Workforce Initiative (SSRWI). She can be reached at (513) 533-8435 or rguerin@cdc.gov. ANDREA OKUN, DrPH, is Associate Director for Global Collaborations and co-coordinator of SSRWI. She can be reached (513) 533-8377 or aokun@cdc.gov.
Bringing Work Safety and Health to Schools
Stories of young workers being injured, made ill, or killed on the job are distressingly common. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that approximately 1.5 million teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 are employed in the United States. Each year, on average, 60,000 of these young workers are injured seriously enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. The data also show that teenagers are twice as likely as workers age 25 and older to be injured on the job. Workplace injuries can be devastating for these young people and their families and can have lifelong implications. They are all the more tragic because they can be prevented. Despite this, young people continue to enter the work force with little or no preparation for the risks and hazards that they face. Most efforts to prepare the emerging work force do not include workplace safety and health knowledge and skills. This is a critical gap that must be addressed. LIFE SKILLS FOR SAFE AND HEALTHY WORK The problem is not new, and AIHA members have long sought to address it. Over the years, individual members, either acting alone or through their local sections, have conducted outreach at schools to build awareness of occupational health and safety (OHS). Unfortunately, these members have lacked a common source of educational materials—until now. This month, at AIHA’s Fall Conference in Orlando, Fla., NIOSH and AIHA will jointly introduce a new initiative called “Safety Matters.” The goal of this program is to equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to participate in safe and healthy work environments throughout their working lives. The core of “Safety Matters” is a one-hour interactive teaching module and PowerPoint presentation targeted to students in grades 7 through 12. Volunteers can use the presentation to teach students that all workers can be injured, become sick, or even be killed on the job; that work-related injuries and illnesses are predictable and preventable; and that employers are responsible for, and workers have the right to, safe and healthy work. Students will also learn how to identify hazards at work; how to prevent injury and illness; how to identify emergencies at work and decide on the best ways to address them; and how workers can communicate with others—including people in authority—when they feel unsafe or threatened. The “Safety Matters” presentation is based on a full curriculum called “Youth@Work-Talking Safety” that NIOSH developed for schools throughout the United States. Already in use in the Miami-Dade County Public School System, the curriculum is customized for all states, territories, and the District of Columbia and conveys the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students need to stay safe and healthy on the job. While “Talking Safety” is intended for use by trained educators, “Safety Matters” allows volunteers to bring the message of workplace health and safety to school districts that haven’t implemented the full curriculum. HOW YOU CAN HELP We are eager to tap into AIHA members’ well-known volunteer spirit to help prepare young people for a lifetime of safe and healthy work. The most obvious way that members can become involved is to present “Safety Matters” to students. Members can also volunteer to bring the full “Talking Safety” curriculum into their local school districts or lobby their state legislators to make OHS an integral part of career readiness programming in schools. (Earlier this year, Oklahoma passed a law to provide students in grades 7 to 12 with workplace health and safety information.) Become a volunteer today, save a life tomorrow! To get started, please visit NIOSH's website to download your free “Safety Matters” presentation. We look forward to working with you to help protect the nation’s young workers.
Mallory, at age 14, became entangled in an ice-packing machine while working a summer job to earn money for church camp. Once a budding athlete and artist, Mallory lost function in both arms. Her life will never be the same.