Matthew Brun, Ventia

"It's ok to say 'no'" is one of Safety Specialist Matthew Brun's key messages for young workers at Ventia's remediation site for the Parramatta Light Rail program, as part of a new safety initiative targeting younger and less experienced workers. 

The aim of the program is to ensure young workers feel safe and comfortable speaking up and asking questions at work. Using the collective experience of other workers to advise and share lessons learned with their younger colleagues is also a key element.

Matt was honoured to present his initiative at Safe Work NSW's Quarterly Major Projects Industry Committee last week.

Young workers - those aged 15 to 24 - make up a substantial proportion of the workforce and bring energy, new ideas and a fresh perspective. Research and literature from Safe Work Australia reveals that young workers can be at higher risk of workplace injury due to less maturity and experience on the job.

This can mean they may be less aware of workplace health and safety risks and responsibilities. In addition, young workers by virtue of their earlier stages in life may still be:

  • developing their skills, competencies and physical capabilities
  • unfamiliar with appropriate workplace behaviours
  • reluctant to make requests, ask questions or speak out about problems
  • overly keen to please and make a good impression, and over-confident in their capabilities

In targeting these risks, the team at the project site have created a 'young workers group' who meet weekly in dedicated classroom style learning sessions and field-based exercises focusing on topics, such as:

  • Consultation and communication
  • Risk perception
  • Hazard identification
  • Learning gaps
  • Ventia Critical Risk Protocols
  • Industry best-practice
  • Mental health and wellness
  • Empowerment

More senior colleagues on site coach young workers by consciously breaking down tasks into manageable steps, and demonstrating tasks and watching them to ensure they understand and are capable. 

They also model positive behaviour, request their younger colleagues' input for site safety to build their experience and understanding of WHS, and use communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions to gauge understanding of potential risks and what to do about them.

Matt Brun says the program has been positively received by colleagues at Ventia as well as Work Safe NSW, who all recognise the realities a lack of maturity and experience can bring.

"All young workers should feel empowered to say 'no' if a situation is unclear or does not feel safe," Matt says. "We aim to provide an environment in which young workers feel empowered to speak up and ask questions more than once, and where their co-workers and supervisors provide the time, mentoring and role-modelling for young workers to be successful at their job and to go home safely every day."