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COSH Groups Help Teens Confront Workplace Violence; Shocking Statistics Lead to Remarkable Partnerships

On Monday, June 23rd, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health,  joined four teen peer educators in a telephone press conference to kick off Teens Lead at Work for 2014.  The program, originated by Massachusetts Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) in 2002, is now a national effort to help young workers recognize – and avoid – the hazards of workplace violence.

Twenty three million teens are expected to seek summer employment this year, many entering the workforce for the first time. “When you’re coming out of school and heading to your summer job,” said Dr. Michaels, “the last thing you expect is to get seriously hurt or killed at work. But every nine minutes, a U.S. teen gets injured on the job. And just last week, a 16-year old boy was killed by a crane at a construction site in Missouri.”

“We want teens, their parents, and their employers to know that injuries and deaths are preventable when workers receive the proper training and protections,” Michaels said.

Teens Lead at Work uses peer-to-peer training to promote safe, healthy workplaces and strong enforcement of child labor laws.  First started by MassCOSH in the Boston area, it is being launched this year in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with grant support from OSHA.  

Teens Lead at Work members from MassCOSH.
Teens Lead at Work members from MassCOSH.

The training sessions will help teens understand their rights and responsibilities on the job – including their right to refuse unsafe work. Through role play, video prompts and discussion, peer educators will also illustrate how to respond to common hazards, such as how to reduce the risk of violence during robberies at retail establishments.

 “We hope to train 540 young workers between ages 15 and 22 from 5 major metropolitan communities,” MassCOSH’s Justin Caballero, 17, told the members of the national press listening in on the call, “and we also hope to train at least 30 small retail businesses, including owners, managers, and employees. We will expand hopefully to other areas in the United States in the next year.”

The teens shared statistics that told the story of dangers that face young workers.  Clearly, the numbers hit them on a personal level. “A 2009 study estimated that 200,000 teens are assaulted at work each year, “said Alice Kuang, 16 , of San Francisco. “Isn’t that just ridiculous?”

According to a recent survey of teen retail workers by MassCOSH:

  • 74% never received training on workplace violence or health and safety
  • 31% of young workers sometimes worked without supervision
  • 27% had experienced a theft at their workplace

15-year-old Wendell Skinner, a peer educator working with the Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH), told the tragic story of one such theft in his area. “A young man named Jamil Bader was killed in an attempted robbery. He was shot in the head while he was wrestling with one of the suspects,” Wendell related during the press conference. “Workers young or old don’t expect to be robbed at work. [We] are training young workers what to do in that type of situation.”

Teens Lead at Work is being implemented this summer by MassCOSH; the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California Berkeley; the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH); PhilaPOSH; and the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH) .

Full audio of the press conference with Dr. Michaels and teen leaders is available on the National COSH website, along with a transcript of his remarks and a press release about the event.

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