Young people don’t understand risk!

Risk management is based on following a formula – inform; instruct; train; supervise.  When you have children you use this all the time when they’re young.  As they get older and able to understand the implication of their actions supervision gets less and they are expected to take more responsibility.

However, the move from the supervised school environment to the workplace is a much bigger leap than most youngsters are prepared for.  It’s no wonder that young people entering the workplace are twice as likely to have an accident than their adult counterparts.

Schools may provide information on health and safety, but rarely provide proper education in risk management, so young people arrive in their first place of work ill-equipped to make good quality decisions about the risks all around them.

As many young people’s first job is manual they’re in an even higher risk situation, this is particularly true in the construction industry where youngsters are very likely to have accidents.  In the year 2007-8 there were 2600 workplace accidents involving 16-24 year old men and 1033 involving young women in the same age group.  23 of those were fatalities.

The employers of young people suffering this kind of accident have been held to account in court and have been jailed where a young person has lost their life.  Like the 15 year old in Essex who was left alone to hold up a wall.  It fell on him and both the builder and the contractor were jailed for 3 and 1 years respectively.

There are other issues around young people in the workplace – because they don’t want to be seen as ‘complaining’ or are afraid of rocking the boat and losing a job that is hard to come by, they don’t report accidents.  In some cases, they don’t understand the importance of reporting incidents in relation to improving working conditions, equipment and practices.

Improving the situation

The transition between school and workplace could be handled better by both school and employer; too many assumptions are made about the competence of young people in unfamiliar situations.

  • Schools could prepare better with simulations or games* that help young people understand risk better.
  • Employers can follow the IITS formula more conscientiously:
    • Information – providing not only information about the risks, but also giving them a wider understanding of the reason why reporting accidents is important.
    • Instruction – even though young people’s brains are like sponges, most can only handle 5 dos and 5 don’ts at time.  Instructions need to be simple and pertinent to exactly what they’re doing.
    • Training – both school training in risk and employer training should line up – but currently don’t come close.  Most schools don’t have a sufficiently in-depth understanding of the working environment outside the school and many employers assume that general health and safety is enough.
    • Supervision – when young people arrive in the workplace they need close supervision until they demonstrate competence.  With a young person ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a recipe for disaster.

Young people bring lots of advantages to the workplace – but they need to be managed carefully to avoid them joining the accident statistics.

*Game simulations for a variety of purposes relating to risk, health and safety are available from Risk and Safety Plus.  Please contact us at for more information.