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Keeping young workers safe from hazards in their work places

OPINION
By Winstone Audi | May 2nd 2018
[Photo: Courtesy]

Joshua Ruto (not his real name), a 16-year-old farmhand, lost his right hand in a chaff cutter accident that occurred on his first day of using the machine. The cutter was electric and was used for chopping maize stalks for use as animal feed.

As Ruto was feeding the chaff cutter, he pushed his hand too far with the feed. His colleague heard him scream and shut off the machine. He had to get his hand amputated at the wrist. This scenario is repeated over and over again all across the world, resulting in disabilities and fatalities among young workers.

A young worker is defined as a person at work who is at least over 13 years but below 18 years of age, while the minimum age for a worker is 13 years.

The Kenyan Employment Act 2007 indicates that a child of between 13 and 16 years may be employed to perform light work that is not likely to be harmful to the child’s health or development, or prejudice the child’s school attendance, participation in vocational orientation or training programmes, or capacity to benefit from the instructions received.

Young workers are a heterogeneous group and many factors affect the risk of occupational accidents and diseases to which they are exposed. These include stage of physical, psycho-social and emotional development; level of education, job skills and work experience.

Occupational safety

While young workers’ increased occupational safety and health (OSH) risks are often associated with these individual factors, the workplace culture can also play a role in hindering their ability or readiness to speak out about OSH issues, or it could provide an enabling environment that leads to better health outcomes for young workers.

Young workers are often unaware of their rights as employees and of their OSH responsibilities as young employers, and may be particularly reluctant to report OSH risks. Young workers also lack the bargaining power that more experienced workers may have.

This could lead to their accepting dangerous work tasks, poor working conditions, or other conditions associated with precarious employment. Their presence in hazardous economic sectors and their exposure to the hazards found in these sectors further increase their risk of sustaining occupational injury and disease.

To protect young workers, employers must know the range of hazards in their workplace, and they must apply the necessary controls to ensure that people are not injured or made ill because of their work.

They must give young workers the information they need to undertake their work safely. There is no substitute for thorough training and careful supervision until the new worker is competent to do the tasks required.

Mainstreaming occupational safety and health into education in Kenya would be a good way of creating and nurturing a safe work culture from an early age.

Risk education

This could involve combining risk education and the management of safety and health in schools for both pupils and staff; actively involving staff and pupils in school safety management; training and involving teachers in OSH management in their schools; developing  students’ understanding and appreciation of OSH.

In addition, involving pupils in hazard spotting and proposing solutions; and integrating risk education and school safety and health into all the school’s activities and systems, so that they become part of school life rather than something extra that is brought in.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2007 is very clear about the need to protect people from injury or illness at work.

Under this Act, employers must: provide and maintain systems of work that are safe and without risk to health; have arrangements for ensuring safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances.

They must also provide the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure the health and safety of all workers; and maintain the working environment and workers’ facilities in a safe condition and without risks to health.

As we celebrated this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28, 2018, it was left to us to pay special attention to the safety of young persons at work and encourage conversations on the need to improve their safety and health.

 

Mr Audi is a workplace safety and health practitioner

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