Philadelphia, along with several other cities, is rolling out a new training program for teenagers to reduce the risks of workplace violence. With the start of summer, scores of young adults have jobs for the very first time. Some of them may be especially susceptible to violence and harassment.
Teen workers ‘particularly vulnerable’
Violence on the job is fresh in Damon Walker’s mind. He recalls an incident from just last month when a teen working at a gas station overnight in Southwest Philly was shot.
“Two men approached the Hess station where he worked, and one had on a Hess shirt. So he allowed the person into the station, thinking the person was a fellow deliverer or co-worker,” said Walker.
Since then, the teen has reportedly recovered. Walker, with the Philadelphia project on Occupational Safety and Health or PhilaPOSH, wonders what safety protocols were in place for checking deliveries and badges before any employee would unlock the station. He worries teen workers might not speak up.
“Teens are particularly vulnerable because, by nature, they’re going to obey the people that are over them, whether it’s a parent, teacher at school or supervisor on the job,” said Walker.
Last month’s incident is one of several in recent years involving a teen worker shot — or killed — on the job.
Beyond gun violence, data from Brandeis University has found that some 200,000 young workers are victims of sexual assault each year.
Putting a focus on on-the-job violence
Walker’s nonprofit is one of five around the country working through a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Labor Department to train teens about workplace safety this summer.
“Of course it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace,” said David Michaels, head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in a statement. “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 and protections they need to be safe.”
The initiative is new, but it’s modeled on a Massachusetts training program, Teens Lead @ Work, which came about after a spate of teen deaths at work in the Boston area in 2002. That initiative has since trained more than 4,000 young workers, according to Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. Until now, however, she said it has lacked a special violence prevention focus for teens and retail employees.
The new training, developed last year with input from the five groups, kicks off in Philadelphia July 2 at the People for People office.
Wendell Skinner, 14, who happens to be Walker’s son, is one of five local peer educators leading the trainings.
“With this being my first job, I can learn from this and later on in life, working in different places, I’ll know different hazards and my worker rights,” said Wendell.
Themes of the two-hour training include what equipment teens can and can’t operate by law and how many hours they’re allowed to work. Wendell plans to use a tailored video to broach the topic of workplace robberies. In the video’s opening grocery store scene, he will point out what the cashier is (or isn’t) doing before a man robs the store and shoots him.
“Right there, when the guy walked into the store, you should make good eye contact, ask him what he needs,” said Wendell. “One mistake that I see here, he’s sitting at the cash register. He should be moving around, stocking shelves, making it harder for the robber to rob the store.”
Another activity makes use of an image of a restaurant kitchen, with participants asked to identify potential hazards – including open flames, slippery floors – and potential solutions.
The initiative aims to train 120 teens in Philadelphia this summer, Walker said.