Workplace Safety: The Next Generation
Are your kids safe?
Every year, an average of 795,000 young people are treated for work-related injuries. CDC statistics show 403 teens died in 2016. So, what are employers — and their insurers — doing to keep young workers safe on the job?
First, look at where teens are in the working world. Forty-eight percent work in the leisure and hospitality industry (restaurants and other food service jobs), 21 percent find themselves employed in retail and 9 percent are in educational and health services. After that, young adults find employment in several different industries, including agriculture, transportation, construction and more.
The CDC holds that youth work-related injuries are highest in the leisure and hospitality sector, accounting for 38 percent of reported injuries and illnesses among this age group, while retail workers are the second highest at 21 percent. Young people under the age of 20 account for nearly 2 million workers exposed to farm-related safety hazards, according to OSHA.
Young people in food service encounter hazards from serving to clean up, food prep to delivery, and more. Strains, sprains, burns, cuts, slips, falls — the food industry sees them all.
“Burns and cuts are the most common,” said Julie Nester, risk and claims manager for the Jack in the Box Inc. chain. “We see a good amount of sprains, too, from people lifting things that are heavy or awkward.”
Accidents and injuries can be prevented with proper training, steadfast dedication to safety and knowing what teen workers can and cannot do while on the clock. Employers keen on keeping their young workers safe see better results when teens are prepared.
Training, Training, Training
While young adults and teens make up a fairly small portion of the workforce, many state laws require additional workers’ compensation protection for minors, beyond what is paid in benefits to adults.
These additional protections back the adage “children are our future,” taking into consideration each young worker’s future earning capacity and, for some states, doubling workers’ compensation indemnity benefits.
The leading cause of injuries to young workers is improper training. With many millennial-aged workers taking on temporary roles over the summer or during the holiday breaks, training can easily fall victim to shortcuts.
“A lot of the time, young workers have limited hours, so it takes a bit to get them through training,” said Nester. But in the end, it’s worth it.
“The efficiency of a well-trained employee is that he or she is more efficient,” said Nicholaos S. Galakis, the managing director of loss control for Restaurant Programs of America, LLC, a full-service insurance agency focused exclusively on the restaurant industry. According to Galakis, 70 percent of workers’ compensation accidents occur within the first 12 months of employment.
“That means we’re either not training them correctly, or we need to watch these new employees, because they are very young and inexperienced,” he said.
With an injury rate two times higher than for workers over 25, employers have every reason not to take shortcuts with training. Emergency room data shows an average of 795,000 youth are treated each year for non-fatal, work-related injuries, accounting for nearly one third of all similar injuries throughout the workforce. These small accidents can end up costing big, too.
“A simple laceration with minimal medical treatment is still a claim and can cost up to $500,” Galakis said. “A laceration that needs stitches could be anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. If the laceration is severe, like it cut a tendon in [the employee’s] hand, that could be upwards of $25,000 to $30,000, and that’s just medical. What if they go out on indemnity? We still have to pay them the cost of their salary.
“I’ve seen burns up to half a million dollars,” he continued. “So it’s important for any employer to really train new employees. Train them and have them follow somebody with experience. A day, a week, whatever is warranted — train them. No matter how much you train, [the employee] should see how it’s done before they do it themselves.”
Utilizing Modern Tech
Technology, forever a growing industry, acts as a means to communicate with and train new employees. In a LinkedIn article, David Beach, chief human resource officer at Wilbanks Trucking Services, wrote, “Technology offers ease of use, learning retention, dissemination of information, the ability to reinforce learning, employee training convenience and a reduced impact on productivity.”
With something that offers so much flexibility, it’s no wonder employers seek out technological avenues to train.
“I’ve seen burns up to half a million dollars. So it’s important for any employer to really train new employees.” — Nicholaos S. Galakis, managing director, loss control, Restaurant Programs of America
“With technology, we can have a five- to 10-minute training module that’s customizable for each operation,” said Galakis. “It’s faster and easier to show a trainee a video of what needs to be done. And after, we can monitor to see if they understood the training through questions.”
After serving in risk management for nearly 30 years, Galakis has seen just how technology changed the way safety training is provided. However, he still cautioned that technology is “also taking the individual out of training. Just because an employee was in front of a screen for 15 minutes doesn’t mean they get everything.”
Within most food service industries, video clips and follow-up questions act as the primary means of technological training. In fast food, Nester noted, the hands-on approach is most effective.
Still, more employers are tapping into tech. In fact, thanks to the ever-growing industry, employers have a golden opportunity to create training methods that better suit a generation growing up alongside technology. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, for instance, has created an app-based model to train young workers.
Grain cooperatives, one sector of agribusiness, incur millions of dollars’ worth of losses for workers’ compensation claims each year. Nationwide found losses stemming from grain elevators doubled from $10 million in 2009 to almost $20 million in 2016.
Young workers — the “iPhone generation,” as Jason Berkland, senior consultant with Nationwide’s Risk Management Services, called them — have a proclivity for technology. Berkland said that he found young workers more likely to turn to their cell phones for answers to training questions than they would turn to a supervisor or co-worker.
With this in mind, Nationwide developed Hazard Spotter SM, a grain cooperative training app for iPhone and Android platforms, to help better train its employees and reduce workers’ comp costs.
Before, many grain co-ops were still using VHS tapes as a means of training.
The app is designed to take new employees through three levels of grain co-op training: housekeeping, preventative maintenance and hot work. Users receive a score based on the completion of the tasks set before them, their ability to properly document each task and their ability to identify hazards and use proper equipment.
“You’re not running around as someone else,” Berkland said, describing the first-person point of view layout and design of the app. “It’s your hands grabbing the tools.”
Young grain workers can go through grain cooperative tasks over and over again, enabling them to learn on a platform they are accustomed to. According to Berkland, by virtually exploring and having the opportunity to fail and start over, young workers joining the grain industry can see what should and should not be done before ever setting foot on the co-op floor.
Nationwide’s app is designed in a gaming format to be as engaging as possible. Players run through grain co-op safety protocols in the game. If a player forgets to pick up and wear the proper safety equipment, the game will stop and tell the player to try again. Before allowing the trainee to start anew, the game explains why the safety equipment was vital to the task and informs on any possible consequence to the player’s mistake.
For example, if the player forgets to put on their welding mask before welding or cutting, then the game will say the player sustained an eye injury and will start back at the beginning.
Retention and Turnover
Even the most diligent training efforts can suffer from the effects of high turnover among young workers.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that, as of 2015, 27 percent of restaurant employees are enrolled in school. Turnover rates in the hospitality and leisure industry topped 70 percent for the second consecutive year in 2016. Many call the employee rotation “cyclical,” saying the teen worker population grows each summer and shrinks when school is in session.
Compounding the problem, the current generation of young workers are also more prone to hop from job to job.
“Millennials tend to leave jobs a lot sooner if they don’t like what they see,” said Galakis. “Turnover rate is high, nearly 65 percent for the fast food sector of the restaurant industry. The company is spending time and money on hiring and training, then losing employees.”
This, he said, is a constant pain point for safety. “If you’re always bringing in new employees, how to you keep people trained?”
The high turnover rate of all employees, regardless of age, affects injury and illness, because the new employees are inexperienced, he said. “The only way to affect turnover rates is to have higher compensation or add other incentives, and not every employer can do that.”
Galakis said his clients are willing to do more for safety, but it comes down to profit margins, which is why RPA tracks injuries on the job, recording the time and type of injury in order to track losses and analyze what can be done to prevent further harm.
One way to combat turnover would be “to ensure we are hiring the right people for the job and taking the time to properly train and engage new employees in the company’s culture. Turnover is high; the longer we can keep an employee, the more experience they have to teach the younger ones,” Nester said.