Danger Factor

Danger Factor
  By Heather Richards

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The LifeQuilt commemorating young workers injured or killed in Canada is slated to cover the country beginning April 2003. Stitched together with dedication and hope by Toronto visual artist Laurie Swim and community volunteers across the country, the quilt will measure nine feet by eighteen feet at the start of its nationwide tour.

It will include one hundred squares of fabric flanking a central figure adorned with ribbons. Each square will commemorate the life of a young worker who died in a workplace accident and each ribbon will be imprinted with the name, age and type of injury sustained by a youth on the job.

Youth in Canada are increasingly under pressure to secure employment. Caught in the need-the-job-to-get-experience and need-experience-to-get-the-job paradox, unemployed youth may not have many job options. Gaining a competitive edge for future employment, coupled with rising post secondary tuition fees, is forcing more students into the workplace.

The Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada has gathered statistics reporting that each year over 60,000 young workers in Canada are injured on the job serious enough to take time off work. Over the last two years, nearly 100 workers nation-wide have been fatally injured as a result of hazardous workplace conditions.

Unfortunately there are many hazards on the job that can affect youth—from a severed finger to a tragic, untimely death. The Ontario Ministry of Labour found that young workers between the ages of 15-24 represent 20 percent of the workforce but suffer a staggering 33 percent of all workplace fatalities and 25 percent of all work-related injuries. Inquests and investigations into the cause of hazardous working conditions uncovered that a lack of proper health and safety training is consistently at the root of this issue.

Burns, slips and bruising are inevitable in the dynamic physical environments of the retail and hospitality industries. The majority of youth work part-time in these fields and although the frequency of injury may be high, the severity of the injuries is low.

Regardless of the fact that all jobs have potential risks and hazards, it is vital the workplaces be safe and young workers be provided with appropriate health and safety training as to specific job hazards. It is also important employers provide knowledgeable and competent supervision to young workers, advising them to ask questions or voice concerns about job safety. The risk of personal injury increases in the fields of construction and manufacturing, which involve electricity, height and working with machinery. Without appropriate training these high-risk jobs could be fatal.

Young workers who have been injured on the job explain they did not want to attract any negative attention despite feeling uneasy about taking on certain tasks. Also, young workers wanted to please their boss, needed the money and did not want to risk losing their jobs. A large majority of young workers had no knowledge of their rights as part-time, temporary or seasonal employees.

Aiding young workers in becoming aware of their rights is a passionate pursuit for Maureen Shaw, President and CEO of

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