Eighteen-year old Cristian Giambrone was working his regular shift at a Boston drugstore on Feb. 16, 2004, when a shoplifter pulled a knife, killing Cristian and injuring another worker.
Cristian’s tragic death led the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health to seek answers. They found that most teens had not been trained on how to respond to shoplifters or other threats of workplace violence. In response, MassCOSH applied for funding through OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program and received funding to help reach young workers.
They’ve since been leading an effort to ensure that teens receive training about workplace violence — especially not to chase shoplifters — and that employers establish workplace violence prevention programs, provide adequate security, cameras and alarms, and never allow teens to work alone.
When you’re coming out of school and heading to your summer job, the last thing you expect is to get seriously hurt or killed at work. But the disturbing truth is that young workers are often among the most vulnerable members of our nation’s workforce. Workers under the age of 25 are twice as likely to be injured on the job as older workers, and are often unaware of their workplace rights. In 2012, more than 170,000 young workers were injured and 361 were killed. We want teens, their parents, and their employers to know that these injuries and deaths are preventable when workers receive the proper training and protections.
Under the OSH Act of 1970, employers are required to provide a workplace free of serious, recognized hazards, including workplace violence. Certain industries are known to have higher risk factors, like health care, retail work and other jobs where workers handle money, work alone or deal with violent people.
Through their OSHA grant, MassCOSH developed Teens Lead @ Work, a program that prepares peer trainers to teach other young workers about occupational safety and health. Peer-to-peer training of this sort has long been shown to be an effective tool for reaching and teaching vulnerable populations. The MassCOSH curriculum is special because it trains peer teen educators on health and safety hazards that young workers face on the job, like workplace violence.
This training is a unique opportunity to reach out to young workers with life-saving information. Of course it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace, but educating young workers to identify hazardous situations can give them the confidence they need to speak up at work and ask for the training they need to be safe.
OSHA’s young workers page offers tailored information and resources on workers’ rights and summer job safety. The page has information on hazards common to retail, food service, maintenance and other industries teens are likely to hold jobs. You can also check out a series of workplace safety videos made by teens for teens, from a recent contest sponsored by the Oklahoma Labor Department.
Help us make sure that each young person’s first job is just the beginning of a long, safe and healthy working career. Spread the word to parents, teachers, employers, friends and anyone else who’ll listen – #IHaveRights!
Dr. David Michaels is the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.