10 feet tall and bulletproof: Why teenagers need different training

by on September 13, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

There’s an old military joke that if you send 100 18-year-olds on a mission and told them that 99 would be certain to get killed on it, every last one of them would start the mission feeling sorry for their buddies who weren’t coming back.

It turns out there’s some research to back that up: A recent study showed most teenagers believed they didn’t need safety training because it was common sense. Yet 52% of them in the study reported a workplace injury.

And even worse: “Many viewed the injury lightly and as part of the job, even those that sustained severe injuries,” the researchers said. In other words, to a teenager, it’s just a flesh wound.

What’s a safety director to do? Reaching teenagers is not an easy trick, as any parent of one will tell you. But the researchers offer some clues:

  • Safety training is usually not geared to teenager’s development levels, and
  • Teenagers often need more interaction and repetition than more mature adults.

‘Boring’ is red herring
The researchers also uncovered a potential red herring: Teenagers often found safety training “boring.” Trying to make safety training entertaining is not the way to go. It will never be as entertaining as video games or TV, and trying to make it so will trivialize it. It may even earn the contempt of teenagers.

Better: Have supervisors or trainers address the “boring” complaint directly and firmly, e.g., “Safety training is not here to entertain you.” Teenagers may not like hearing that, but they’re more likely to respect it.”

Instead, focus safety training on teenagers’ development levels. Keep in mind a few things to remember about teenagers:

  1. They may get overloaded with detail more easily. A teen is often learning for the first time how to work for pay. They may be learning virtually everything from scratch. Safety training can overload their memories. They may react by telling themselves this is just “common sense” and focus on all the other things they must learn.
  2. Teenagers are eager to start the actual work. Initial training may seem too much like school – and they’re out of school. They want to get down to brass tacks and on the job. Safety training can seem like one more thing that’s getting in their way. They want it done.
    Bottom line: Teenagers want to start quickly and they’re not ready.

Here’s one option: Teenagers do react well to initiation. Break down tasks, include practice on the job, and include safety in that. Explain when they master both productivity and safety, then they can learn other things.

For example, a garbage compressor for boxes is a dangerous piece of equipment. Tossing out the trash is a job you can give to a teenager. But you want them to demonstrate that they can safely lift and move materials before you’re going to let them use the box compressor. If necessary, lock it.
As they demonstrate safety and competence, they’re “initiated” into more important (and more hazardous) tasks. Injuries delay “initiation.” That motivates them to learn what you want them to learn at a rate they can absorb.

Source: Zierold, Kristina, et al., Attitudes of Teenagers Toward Workplace Safety Training, May 2012: Journal of Community Health.

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