Newest Workers Keep National Watch

November 18, 2014

Night after night, the man would come to the store where “Rebecca” worked, asking the teenager to go out with him and making other inappropriate comments. When she asked for help from her boss, he told her to make sure she was nice to the customer. Rebecca shared her deeply troubling story at a workshop this past August led by youth peer leaders from MassCOSH’s Teens Lead @ Work, part of their effort to provide young workers with tools to avert violence, harassment and other harm at work.

Thanks to a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the 23 peer leaders in MassCOSH’s Teens Lead @ Work program not only engaged and educated hundreds of young workers in Greater Boston, but also partnered with Coalitions for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) groups in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles and UC Berkeley in Northern California to build a national network of youth peer educators.

“When people think of job safety, they most likely think of construction type work,” says TL@W Youth Coordinator Colleen Armstrong. “But, nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year and homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. Our peer leaders take this training very seriously.”

David Michaels, the head of OSHA, joined peer leaders from Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco in June to announce the new national young worker safety peer leadership program, just in time for millions of youth head out to their summer jobs. He praised the teen peer education approach as an effective way to reduce and prevent the hazards of workplace violence.

“This is a unique opportunity to reach out to young workers with life-saving information,” said Michaels. “Of course, it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace, 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.”

“In every training, we are really making sure that everyone knows that sexual harassment is workplace violence, and so is bullying and so is racial and gay harassment,” said MassCOSH Peer Leader Daniel Martinez. “It’s not just not ok, it’s not just illegal, its violence.”