The first was a discussion I had with a first year Engineering student who is currently working at a SAGD plant in Northern Alberta as an Operator. He recounted a story where purging piping was connected incorrectly and deadly sour gas was released. He and his co-worker quickly responded and no one was harmed. It became a funny story to tell friends! Whew.
Then last week, my son, also an Engineering student, suffered a work-related back injury. Little did I know that part of his burger-flipping gig involved lifting 80 pound bags of potatoes! While I have so far been impressed with the safety procedures and orientation process of this restaurant, the handling of these large bags was not covered by their procedures. Surely ‘Safety Sheila’ had mentioned to her son to ask for help to lift a bag that heavy?
Both of these were near miss incidents that could have had much more severe outcomes.
As a parent, I actually hope my kids will have a few near-miss experiences in their life so they can appreciate the concept of risk. Take my son who kept tossing grapes in the air and catching them in his mouth. Whenever I saw this, I would make him stop, and tell him all the horrors of choking. Did this work? Nope, not until a grape lodged in his throat (thankfully not his windpipe) and he was sufficiently scared not to do this again.
The same is true for road safety… a minor accident can lead to behaviour change. It just takes one near miss at a crosswalk to make sure that the next time, you fully stop at a stop sign. Crashing into the neighbour’s hedge because your bike brakes aren’t working may help act as a reminder to always check your brakes before riding.
The back injury and the sour gas release were great learning opportunities for these young men. But do we have to have near misses at work for young workers to really appreciate the risks they encounter at work?
I think the solution is to involve young workers in incident investigations so that they can truly appreciate the impact of workplace incidents through the experience of others. The ‘scare tactic’ and bloody videos are just not effective to this generation. We need to make it real - real experiences, real people.
Instead of high-level things such as ‘sprain’ or ‘exposure’, try ‘sprained back while lifting potatoes’ or ‘inhalation of H2S’.
Young workers should be taught to ask ‘what could go wrong’ before any activity - Drive through a yellow light? Or open a purge valve? Or lift this heavy bag? We need to make thinking about risk a natural part of the everyday thought process.
We need to train young workers to do risk assessments, and ask "what could go wrong?” before every activity so that it becomes a way of life. If you’ve read this far, you probably care about young worker safety, so put your caring into action, by helping the young people you work with to recognize and manage risk – you may actually save someone’s life!