Young workers today face many challenges related to safety and well-being at their places of work. Statistics by the ILO show that young workers are up to 40% more likely to suffer non-fatal occupational injuries compared to their older counterparts. While some of the challenges they face are also borne by other segments of the working population, most of the challenges are specific to young people. Additionally, OSH hazards that young worker faces are dependent on a number of factors such as nature of their work, the location of their workplace, nature of the employer and the level of knowledge on OSH of the workers.
The biggest challenges in ensuring that young people have safe and healthy working environments include working under supervisors with little or no knowledge in OSH, limited or no knowledge on OSH, lack of knowledge on existing legislation that outline basic OSH requirements of a workplace, lack of alternative job opportunities and the relatively high cost of required safety gear. However, the main challenge when it comes to exposure to OSH Hazards stems from lack of knowledge on OSH. While many formal institutions have a written Occupational Safety and Health Policy, the situation is totally different in the informal sector and some small and medium enterprises. These sectors employ the bulk of young people in many countries and due to their nature, have a higher exposure to OSH hazards.
To ensure that provision of safe and healthy working conditions for young workers is taken seriously, it is imperative to have a means of sharing OSH knowledge with young workers themselves. Such an initiative can involve a campaign whose objective is to empower them with knowledge which they can apply in their working places for their benefit. It can also involve a preliminary consultative process in a bid to understand what they know and their priorities in OSH matters. After making conclusions from the collected data, it is possible to craft a campaign on OSH that will be most relevant and useful to young workers. Additionally, when it comes to information sharing, supervisors who employ young people at their places of work can also benefit through the provision of information on OSH. In addition to providing information, such a campaign can award compliant employers with free safety gear that they can then provide to their employees at no charge.
Another strategy towards ensuring safe youth at work will be having OSH ambassadors at the national, county and community level. Good-will ambassadors have proved useful in running social causes the world over. Initiatives such as the SafeYouth@Work project, an initiative by the International Labour Organization and the United States Department of Labour, should be encouraged and emulated. One of the key elements of the project is the SafeYouth@Work Congress which comprises of young people from around the world. Since each congress member represents a certain country, they will have a good backing of engaging their State Departments in charge of OSH.
A third strategy towards ensuring safe youth at work will be coming up with policies that address the specific challenges faced by young workers. This process can also involve reviewing existing policy and update it as necessary in light of current realities in relation to OSH.
Over the world, Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) complement the effort of governments in doing social good. In many countries, CSO’s have played a key role in involving community members in various initiatives; from the provision of health services, providing emergency response services to fighting drug abuse. Therefore, when it comes to creating awareness and educating young workers on OSH, it would be best to focus on these networks with an aim of reaching young workers and their employers at the community level.
On this auspicious occasion after the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at work, we can all play a role in providing safe and healthy working conditions for young workers because they are the future of work.
NICK NGATIA is an expert on youth advocacy and a champion of youth inclusiveness at the decision-making table. He has extensive experience working with young people and until February this year, he served as the RFP (Eastern and Southern Africa) for the UN MGCY. In 2016, he was recognized as an 'Emerging Community Champion' by UN Habitat and the Youth Congress due to his role in engaging local youth in the Habitat III process.
Currently, Ngatia is a Local Pathways Fellow with the UN SDSN Youth and a SafeYouth@Work champion with the ILO.