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Teens Lead@ Work: COSH Network Provides Peer Training on Job Safety

In 2001, 16 year old Joseph Marzullo went to his part time job at a fish processing plant in Malden, Massachusetts. He and 27 other teens, some as young as 14, cleaned the facility using a forklift – a violation of state and federal child labor laws. Joseph died when his forklift turned over. Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W) was founded by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) to ensure that young people, like Joseph, can benefit from the skills and income a job provides, without experiencing the tragic loss of life or limb.

Sadly, the horrible loss suffered by Joseph’s family is not unique. Approximately 40 teens die in workplace accidents every year in the US, and thousands more require emergency room visits for occupational injuries. Tens of thousands experience sexual harassment – incidents that can cause physical and emotional harm, limiting future opportunities.

“A lot of teens don’t know their rights on the job and feel pressured to do things that get them hurt or killed,” says Jessica Tavares, a TL@W peer leader alum and MassCOSH board member. “I educate teens about job safety and sexual harassment because teens are going to listen to their peers, get involved and stop their rights from being violated.“

TL@W provides an empowering environment where teens can develop leadership skills, reach out to young workers and promote safe, healthy work. To date, the program has provided training to over 5,000 teens in five cities. Ninety percent of participating youth report that they have never received health and safety training, and that, through TL@W, they have gained important information that will help them as they move into careers in the future.

Through TL@W, youth peer leaders participate in meaningful, hands-on internships where they:

  • Develop job readiness and life skills while impacting teen safety and health;
  • Conduct research, as well as identify priority issues of concern and solutions in the workplace and in their community;
  • Lead workshops to educate peers about job safety and health;
  • Promote public policies that protect young workers, from effective child labor laws to addressing school environmental hazards that trigger asthma

“This is a unique opportunity to reach out to young workers with life-saving information,” says David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and former chief of OSHA. “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.”

 
Massachusetts youth learn about workplace health and safety
through interactive workshops developed and led by teen peer leaders.

In 2013, with support from an OSHA Susan Harwood training grant, TL@W was expanded to New York, Philadelphia, Southern and Northern California, coordinated by COSH Network groups and allies, including NYCOSH, PhilaPOSH, Southern California COSH and the University of California, Berkeley. Dozens of TL@W youth peer leaders across the country joined together, with adult staff support, to create a new youth-friendly, interactive violence prevention curriculum, conduct peer-to-peer training and promote policies that strengthen protections for young.

“[Young worker safety] is an issue that not many teens know exist and because of that our safety is being compromised,” says Charis Cruz, a TL@W peer leader in New York.

More than just training, TL@W peer leaders conduct research on critical issues impacting youth and promote meaningful solutions to pressing workplace and public policy problems. Following the murder of 18-year-old Christian Giambrone, who was stabbed by a shoplifter while working at a Boston pharmacy, TL@W peer leaders surveyed young retail workers to determine what, if any, dangers the young people faced on the job. Their findings, documented in their report, “Teens Affected by Workplace Violence”, showed high rates of young retail workers experiencing dangerous situations while working late at night and inspired the young people to seek changes to the Massachusetts child labor laws.

The release of the TL@W report, engagement of community supporters, and countless meetings with representatives resulted in the first improvements to the state’s child labor laws in fifty years . The statute now requires that employers provide on-site supervision after 8 pm and granting the Attorney General the power to levy fines to employers who violate the state’s child labor laws.

“I participate in Teens Lead @ Work because I see young workers dying or getting hurt on the job for no reason,” says Wendell Skinner, a 15-year-old TL@W peer leader at PhilaPOSH.

“Like Jamil Bader, who worked in his family store when two robbers came in and shot him in the head. That could have been me. I need to let people know how to handle these situations without them being hurt.”

For more information about TL@W, contact MassCOSH youth coordinator Jenny Fernandez or National COSH co-executive director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb.


Anurag Gautam, a 16 year old peer leader at NYCOSH, 
reaches out to other youth through social media

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