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Why young workers are most at risk in the workplace

A recent study by SafeWork NSW identified young electrical workers as one of the groups most vulnerable to electrical risk in the workplace. Given that apprentices have safety training regularly drilled into them, whether they’re learning at TAFE or out on the job, it’s concerning that these messages aren’t sticking. So why is this group so vulnerable to electrical accidents?

Young people often feel invulnerable

It’s easy to dismiss this as simply ignoring the rules. But scientific studies show that it’s partly due to brain chemistry. Young people, particularly men, have difficulty avoiding impulsive behaviour. Decision-making and complex reasoning happen in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, an area that isn’t fully developed in males until the age of 30. With men making up 77 per cent of the workforce in electricity, gas, water and waste services, this means these workers struggle to fully comprehend the consequences of risk and are more likely to make unsafe decisions.

In the workplace, this can have dangerous consequences. Still-developing decision-making abilities can lead to feelings of invulnerability, and the belief that accidents happen to other people. With more than 2,000 people in NSW alone receiving electric shocks in the last four years, this thinking is incredibly harmful.

Pressure from peers also impacts the decision making of young workers, as well as an increased desire to try new and risky experiences. This can lead to a rationalisation of dangerous situations, and greater overall risk in their everyday life.

Aversion to rules

We all know telling a teenager not to do something is a recipe for disaster, with many sharing an aversion to authoritarian rules. This can lead to behaviours such as ignoring safety equipment and procedures, not following given instructions and not thinking carefully about being safe when undertaking dangerous work.

This makes reinforcing the rules a difficult prospect. To educate teens and young adults on the impact of their risky decision-making, it’s important to outline the real consequences they face, in a way that they can comprehend. Theoretical learning is not likely to have a lasting impact on them, so it’s important to take on more practical exercises.

Highlighting the consequences

Focusing on the consequences of not following safety procedures can work well to shock apprentices into action. Hearing about workplace injuries and fatalities firsthand conceptualises this danger in their minds. By analysing real accidents, they are able rethink their attitudes about who accidents can happen to.

With the right management and effective safety training, these workers are eager to learn and take pride in their approach to work. An understanding of their thought processes and behaviours can help to create new, more interactive learning experiences that build their awareness of safety risks. Taking a more active role in their learning can help to reduce the risks they face and encourage more mindful behaviours in the workplace.