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Voluntary guidelines recommend best practices for hiring youth

Canadian Agricultural Safety Association staff say guidelines are geared to employers 
but are also useful to anyone with young people working with them in ag worksites

Now that the calendar has flipped to July, many teens get a job working on a neighbour’s farm or in some other agriculturally related job.

While many bring their youthful energy and a ‘can do’ attitude to their workplace, they also think they’ll never get hurt and are indifferent to risk. When that youthful naiveté is combined with inexperience, the spread between their capabilities and the jobs they are asked to do can prove dangerous.

This spring new voluntary guidelines released by the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) aim to help employers of young workers make better choices around their training and supervision, job assignments and work hours.

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The Model Policy for Canadian Youth Employment in Agriculture is a version of what was developed by agricultural safety specialists in the U.S., said Glen Blahey, health and safety specialist with CASA.

The idea is similar to the North American Guidelines for Child Appropriate Tasks — developed for parents assigning jobs to their own children — except that this policy is aimed at employers and hired labour.

“It’s a reminder and suggestion on the things that agricultural employers should think about from the perspective of youth coming in to work for them,” Blahey said.

The guidelines define young workers as those age 14 through 17 years old, but emphasizing that nothing magical happens at age 18 years in terms of maturity or risk of occupational injury. Manitoba Labour laws require employers to get a permit before hiring workers under age 16.

The key message behind these new guidelines is that young people think and act differently, aren’t miniature adults, and should be treated as such in the workplace.

They need a different level of guidance and supervision than adults, he said.

“Many young workers tend to generalize their skills from one task to another, feeling they possess the size and strength to overcome any problem. They feel that they are immortal and can’t be hurt. This can put them at risk,” he said.

“They do not perceive danger and do not anticipate long-term consequences the same way we do. They don’t have the same capacity for rational thought and the same level of endurance and most certainly the level of experience that a mature individual does.”

The document provides an employer with a better idea of what sort of training, supervision and assignments to give young workers, because of their different developmental levels, abilities and limitations.

Specifically, the guidelines stress how all work done by those 18 or younger be directly supervised until the young person can prove competency at a task. The guidelines recommend that young workers work alongside experienced mentors and not be in work-alone situations.

Training for young hired workers should include clear communication and documentation of the allowed and prohibited work activity in and around the workplace.

Job assignments for 14- and 15-year-old youth should occur in non-hazardous work environments only. The range of options can expand for 16- and 17-year-old youth, but only if they have taken either vocational or other work-based learning programs and have the written consent of parents.

Other recommendations include limiting duties assigned, such as those under 18 not being permitted to drive farm machinery on or across public roads or highways, unless they have received documented training and are licensed or certified to operate specific farm vehicles.

The guidelines also recommend youth be given more frequent breaks than what is recommended for adults.

In all instances, these voluntary guidelines are designed to help anyone with a young person working with them to set appropriate limitations on young workers, Blahey said.

“It provides a reality check to the adult in charge saying, ‘remember this is not someone functioning at the same level I am functioning at,’” he said.

For more information on the Canadian Model Youth Policy: Youth Employment in Agriculture, visit casa-acsa.ca/CanadianModelYouthPolicy.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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