The Teens Heard ‘Round the Nation

July 17, 2014

“Now that school is nearly over, 23 million youth across the US will be heading to work for the summer,” said Justin Caballero, a 17-year-old MassCOSH Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W) peer leader. “Jobs are important but young people face dangers. TL@W is working to stop workplace violence and now the program is in four other cities around the country, thanks to the OSHA Susan Harwood grant program.”

With those remarks, Caballero welcomed reporters across the nation for a press conference call on June 17, with the head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and peer leaders from the cities that are replicating TL@W.

David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, spoke of the effectiveness of teen peer education programs in reducing and preventing 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.”

The call marked the official public announcement that TL@W was being replicated at Coalitions for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) groups in Philadelphia, New York City, Southern California, as well as UC Berkeley in Northern California.

"Workplace violence affects teens all over the nation, so it is important that every worker –especially young workers – know about their rights and resources,” said Alice Kuang, 16, a peer leader with UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program who also spoke on the call.

The ongoing hazards faced by teenagers in the workplace were stressed to reporters, referencing a string of recent teen worker fatalities, including Joseph Morante, 19, who was fatally shot in 2013 while working at a cell phone store in Boston.

“I wasn’t even nervous even though he was the head of OSHA and there were a bunch of reporters on the call,” said Caballero. “TL@W has taught me to be confident in my public speaking and how to lead conversations like this. The work we are doing is also really important and I am glad more cities will now have peer leaders to train their young workers on how to stay safe.”

This summer, the national training sessions will reach over 500 young workers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco, including information on health and safety rights at work. Through role play and discussion, peer educators will also illustrate how to respond to common hazards, with special focus on how to reduce the risk of violence during robberies at retail establishments.

“It’s really a privilege to be working with young people who can take on a project this massive and defy everyone’s expectations,” said TL@W Youth Coordinator Colleen Armstrong. “Justin and his peers really did an amazing job leading the recent press call to the point where I am sure many of the reporters thought that our teens must do this all the time. It’s also rewarding for OSHA to want to mirror the work we have been doing across the country. If that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what is.”