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Young workers toolkit accepted not rejected

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The saying 'a quick game's a good game' may work on the footy field but not in health and safety.

Nevertheless, it's an attitude that still features in some workplaces which results in workers, particularly young ones, taking risks or short cuts to get the job done. Not so for one business retailer.

The Reject Shop has succeeded in its mission to put workers' safety first. With around 75 per cent of its workforce aged between 17 and 24 years*, the national discount variety goods retailer has taken safety in the workplace to the next level and it's certainly been no mean feat (*as at June 2017).

Operating in an industry with tight profit margins and fierce competition from online stores, The Reject Shop employs over 5,500 team members throughout 350 retail outlets nationally (excluding the Northern Territory). Preventing workplace injuries is part of the company's business development and in 2017, The Reject Shop agreed to work with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland to pilot the 'Young worker toolkit'. The toolkit helps employers, supervisors, influencers, and trainers engage with young people about work health and safety by building the capabilities of young workers to be safe and productive at work.

The six-month pilot kicked off in 2017 across 133 participating stores involving area managers, store managers, and team members throughout Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia. Strategies were set-up to help understand and communicate safety messages to young workers.

How they did it

Like most safety professionals, The Reject Shop's Safety Advisor (NSW/ACT/QLD) Billie Reynolds needed to work closely with frontline managers to roll out the toolkit pilot. Securing endorsement from the leadership team was critical as this shaped how the rest of the operational team members responded to the initiative. Here's how this pilot unfolded.

Step 1: Communicate the need for change

Billie Reynolds and National Safety Manager Keith Govias, put forward a case to management for change. Using state-wide data on young worker injury rates (PDF, 1.69 MB) they showed a correlation between the data and The Reject Shop's own injury statistics which demonstrated to the leadership team and area managers the need for action.

They argued having team members well-trained in safety would lead to a team that had a better understanding of how to do their job more safely. Billie and Keith took their expertise in health and safety and applied it directly to their business. They demonstrated that good safety practices in the industry could translate to a more pleasant customer experience in their stores which in turn would contribute to better customer service and higher sales.

Once on board, the area managers and the safety team ran briefings for team members involved to explain the reasons for the pilot and what the value would be for their teams. By identifying what the benefits would be to both groups, Billie was able to secure support on all levels for this project.

It was also noted the project was positively received when the safety advisors used its human resources data to reveal the extent to which young workers were employed by the business. By engaging different parts of the business and using evidence to support their arguments the safety team built support for the project. This had multiple positives: reducing injury costs to the business, improving the team's overall welfare which is conveyed through better customer relations and sales - as well as strengthening the working relationship between the health and safety team and the frontline teams for future projects.

Step 2: Know what you're asking others to do

The area managers reviewed and understood the toolkit before working with store managers to assess their understanding of young workers using the four quadrants in the kit (mind and body, education and learning, work design, and workplace culture), with a strong focus on work design and workplace culture. This approach helped prepare the area managers for potential issues which meant they could work with store management to address the strengths and weaknesses identified in managing their workers' health and safety collaboratively.

Step 3. Discovery

Both area and store managers identified potential safety improvement areas for young workers. These ideas were reviewed by all management teams before being rolled out across the organisation. Keeping key personnel in the loop helped the project retain support and momentum.

So what changed?

Before the Young worker toolkit pilot, health and safety training at The Reject Shop focussed on 'telling' young workers about health and safety. Unfortunately, telling doesn't translate to raising awareness and understanding of health and safety.

Work environments, just like life, have risks which need to be managed. It's not possible for young workers to be completely sheltered from workplace hazards, but it is possible to think about how to engage young workers so they understand why safety policies and procedures are put in place.

The pilot also uncovered some assumptions made by area managers – that young workers would understand why they were given safety directions or 'they'd just get it' without having to explain or give further directions.

Billie said it became evident that the workers understood the task, but not the reasoning behind the instruction.

“For example, they didn't really understand why access points needed widening – it wasn't just for themselves, but for customers with a disability or parents with prams; or why some restocking needed to be done before or after hours - so the boxes they unpack don't become a trip hazard for customers.

“Tidy stores are attractive to customers and we want to make it easy for them to make a purchase but that's less likely if they have to watch their step to avoid tripping over boxes, packaging material or inventory.”

“We also personalised our training. It's easy to assume young workers want everything delivered through a mobile device, but that's not always the case. By giving directions face-to-face we found young workers asked more questions; plus this approach allowed the trainer to ask follow-up questions to check understanding – which is something the toolkit highlights through the tell me, show me, watch me training approach.”

When young workers understand why they are using a certain safety procedure they start to understand and identify risks in other work situations which the training may not specifically cover.

The Reject Shop feels its updated safety strategy is better targeted to the needs of its workers, particularly those who are at greater risk of injury.

Billie said improvements in communication methods had been another game changer at The Reject Shop.

“Often in retail young workers aged between 18 and 25 years are managing the store. Sometimes it's a lot easier for a 40-year-old to manage a 19-year-old than it is in reverse,” Billie said.

“To better manage this, we integrated young worker training into our Learning and Development program. Young worker training was developed to improve communication between younger and older workers and has really worked well alongside the Young workers toolkit.

“Poor communication and the feeling you're not being listened to can lead to frustration that then disrupts the work environment – irrespective of the age of the team member. Maintaining an open line of communication is a key aspect of building trust and fostering positive relationships with retail team members.

“Safety professionals can sometimes feel daunted by the challenges in addressing health and safety. The Young worker toolkit helped us get started and identified gaps in our current systems. With the assistance of our team members, area managers, store managers and leadership team we're starting to see a real difference in the way we manage young worker safety,” said Billie.

The Reject Shop is a great example of a proactive and innovative company caring for the health and safety of its young workers. Download the Young worker toolkit today and discover how you can improve safety management for your young workers.

More information

For further information about this case study, the concepts discussed, or the Safety Leadership at Work Program, visit our website or call 1300 362 128.