Young Workers


STOP Cutting Corners

STOP Cutting Corners!


Think back to your first months on a new job. Did your desire to please your boss or to show your competence exceed your ability? Were you adequately trained to take on the tasks that you were required to do? Often young workers feel pressure to perform in roles that are unfamiliar and as a result of that unfamiliarity their safety is in jeopardy.

It seems like safety speakers are often pointing out the flaws of others, but without a doubt I have fallen into the high expectation/low expertise trap myself … as I look back to my first days as an Industrial Arts and Computer Science teacher. I had just earned my Bachelor of Education at the University of Regina with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Computer Science. I felt that my training had prepared me well for life as a teacher, but had no clue my first opportunity would be as a Computer Science and Industrial Arts teacher at Balcarres School. I was young and confident that I could teach Industrial Arts even though I had never used most of the tools in the shop. I’m sure the confidence and enthusiasm helped the School Board determine I was the right person for the job. I interviewed in November of 1992, but didn’t finish my University classes until late December.

I landed the job and in the midst of finishing finals and moving I spent many hours with my Father-in-law in his workshop. I knew I couldn’t run from the tools, but some of them literally scared me and there’s nothing students will chew up and spit out quicker than a rookie teacher that’s unsure of himself. I read every owner’s manual that I could find and spent countless hours in the shop familiarizing myself with the tools.

Once the semester started I had numerous phone calls and conversations with my Father-in-law, trying desperately to gain experience. What made matters even more challenging was the apparent lack of constraints on the type of projects my students selected at the start of the year. Everything was big … everyone was making some sort of table or shelving unit and everything was only half completed.

At this point I felt safety was key, I really didn’t want anyone to get hurt on my watch. I reverted back to classroom instruction to ensure student safety which also gave me time to hone my skills (or at least to find some competency). I taught my students and myself that the tools are just doing what they were designed for and safe use was paramount. I recall telling my students that tools are unforgiving and don’t care if they are cutting through wood or bone.

Experience is a very good teacher, but not always the friendliest.

I should’ve asked for training. I should’ve confessed to my Principal or Director that I didn’t feel safe using the router and table saw. I should’ve, but like most young workers I remained silent. Over time I did hone my skills and from what I recall there was only one student injury (cut from a carving tool) while I worked as the Industrial Arts teacher. When I left Balcarres after five and a half years of teaching I remember saying to my wife that “I still have all my fingers”. Little did I know that ten years down the road complacency would set in and I would suffer such a nasty injury from a table saw kickback.

If you’re a young worker, please don’t add to the statistics which find young workers have a 48 percent higher risk of injury than the overall working population. If you’re unsure of your safety with a task or tool that you are using be honest, ask for direction or simply refuse to do that work until you’ve been properly trained. Always remember, you have the right to refuse work if you feel it is unsafe.

If you’re a supervisor, ask yourself if have you provided the proper instruction and training to ensure that your workers are safe? Sometimes safety may be viewed as unproductive time, but consider the possible impact on productivity and the wellness of your workers if someone gets injured simply because they weren’t aware of a hazard. Safety is everyone’s responsibility … please work together and STOP Cutting Corners!

Check out this short video from one of my presentations encouraging Young Workers to STOP Cutting Corners.
More resources for Young Workers from WorkSafeBC

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