Generation Y Safety: The Challenges of Reaching the Under-30 Worker

Generation Y Safety: The Challenges of Reaching the Under-30 Worker

When it comes to under-30 workers’ approach to safety and their trainability safety professionals such as Mike Byington of LaCrosse, Wisc.-based Inland Label and Marketing Services believe there is a difference between them and their older (or perhaps the more politically correct description is “age-enhanced”) counterparts.

For one thing, Byington has observed that under-30 workers tend to absorb information and respond with questions quicker.

“That’s not a slight to the older worker,” Byington says. “But the younger workers have been brought up in the ‘right here, right now.'”

Their right-here, right-now orientation has made him a better teacher, Byington adds.

“They come up with questions right away, and it’s made my training better because I’ve had to react quicker and have answers readily available after their questions,” Byington says. “I can’t just focus on training and be done with it. I have to prepare for the question-and-answer period, because we have some very intelligent questions.”

Under-30 workers at Inland prefer their safety training information delivered to them in a multimedia buffet of handouts, one-on-one attention and video instruction, Byington explains.

“Some people work better with written [instruction], some work better with video and some do better with one-on-one. We find the combination of the three has been very successful for the younger worker,” Byington says.

Growing Up in the OSHA Age

Clearly, under-30 workers are a product of the computer age, but safety professionals also are quick to note that younger workers have grown up in the OSHA age.

Because of that, under-30 workers and their older counterparts have different reasons for working safely, explains Keith Sliman, safety director at Ford, Bacon and Davis, a Baton Rouge, La.-based chemical engineering and procurement company.

“The younger ones come in and we tell them we need to be safe, we don’t want anyone to get hurt, and they say, ‘OK, fine, whatever you say,’ without the experience of seeing what it was like before [OSHA],” Sliman explains. “They kind of blindly accept it.”

On the other hand, older workers remember what things were like in workplaces before OSHA.

“They saw a lot of folks get hurt and know the impact of being unsafe,” Sliman says. “So they welcome a lot of the things [safety professionals] do.”

And therein lies a paradox: While older workers perhaps have a stronger “why” for working safely, they can be a bit set in their ways and, consequently, harder to train than younger workers, Sliman asserts.

Being ‘Cool’ Versus Being Safe

Personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers such as Indianapolis-based Aearo Co. wrestle with some of those same issues when designing products for under-30 workers.

“Our research indicates it’s a much greater challenge trying to get them to comply and wear hearing protection,” says Marc Santoro, who is the brand manager for Aearo’s Peltor and E-A-R hearing protection products. “I think the biggest problem is that you’re talking about hearing protection, and hearing damage tends to be the result of long-term exposure. With younger workers, they just don’t see that far into the future and don’t believe it can happen to them.”

More seasoned workers are much more likely to have dealt with someone whether a family member or friend who’s lost his or her hearing, Santoro explains “They’ve seen the damaging effects.”

Younger workers, when it comes to wearing PPE, also tend to value style as much as or more than the product’s safety benefits, Santoro adds. “When you have the short-term benefit of looking cool versus the long-term benefit of protecting your hearing, they tend to focus more on the short-term.”

That’s why Aearo’s Peltor NEXT line, while providing the necessary hearing protection, includes the three-color TriBand earplug, the neon green Tattoo earplug (which mimics a barbed wire tattoo pattern that is popular among workers) and the Blaze earmuff, with orange, tie-dyed design ear cups.

In the past, PPE manufacturers attempted to make products that seemed invisible, Santoro explains. Today, the trend is “making it an accessory to the way they dress.”

“The focus is on bright, exciting colors, to draw attention to PPE versus trying to be invisible and trying to have it fade into the background,” Santoro says.


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