Keeping young workers safe in Canada’s restaurant and foodservice industry

By Carola Hicks

The restaurant industry and other retail businesses rank high among industries for risk of adolescent worker injuries. Many teens’ first work experience is in the restaurant industry. Young workers suffer a disproportionate share of injuries and fatalities, especially in the first year on the job.

More than four million teens leave their classrooms each summer to find work. In 2006, 30 youths, under age 18, died from work-related injuries. An estimated 54,800 work-related injuries and illnesses, among youth under 18 years of age, were treated in hospital emergency departments. Because only one-third of work-related injuries are seen in emergency departments, it is likely the actual number of such injuries among working youth is much higher, in the range of 160,000 injuries and illnesses each year.


  • Workers between the age of 15 and 24.


  • Young workers are inexperienced.
  • They see themselves as invincible.
  • They don’t want to seem incompetent by asking questions.
  • As an owner or manager, you need to protect the future of your young workers.
  • You will save your company the high cost of injury.
  • You will meet your regulatory requirement to provide safety training, orientation and supervision


  • Train and supervise your young workers.
  • Inform young workers of hazards and safe work procedures.
  • Use supervisor guides to give young worker safety talks.
  • Display posters and distribute handouts on the most common injuries to young workers in the hospitality industry.


  • Provide orientation and training before a young worker starts a new job (10 per cent of young worker injuries occur in the first week of work and 50 per cent within the first six months).
  • Provide training before a young worker starts any new task.
  • Provide close and ongoing supervision on the job.

The most common injuries to young workers are:

  • Incidents involving hand-held tools, machines, and other equipment (35 per cent)—$3.8 million in claim costs and almost 35,000 days lost from work.
  • Slips and falls, including falls from heights (22 per cent)—more than $6.5 million in claim costs and 50,000 days lost.
  • Overexertion, mainly as a result of lifting (12 per cent)—$1.9 million in claim costs and almost 25,000 days lost.

Train young workers

Employers should take special care to ensure that young workers receive adequate education, training, and supervision before they start a new task. Young workers tend to be inexperienced and may not ask important questions because they are self-conscious about their lack of experience or simply don’t know what to ask. It is important to discuss safety topics during orientation and training, and to encourage young workers to ask questions whenever necessary.

Follow up

A single training session is not enough to ensure ongoing safety. You can decrease the risk of injury at your workplace if you:

  • Observe work activity to ensure that safe work practices are being followed consistently and correctly.
  • Support positive behaviours when safe work practices have been used.
  • Correct unsafe work practices when they are observed.
  • Hold young workers accountable for not following safe work practices.

Young workers in hotels and restaurants may find themselves in situations where they are supervising their co-workers, even though they may not have the title of supervisor or assistant manager. Often they may not realize all the implications of such a supervisory role, especially with regard to health and safety. If a worker’s job includes some supervisory tasks, make sure that the worker understands his or her responsibilities.

This information is a starting point for you to understand your responsibilities. Safety on the job is everyone’s business – employers, supervisors and workers.

About the author

Carola Hicks is CEO of Workplace Safety Group, providing leading-edge, online and in-class health and safety consultation and training programs to associations and specialty industries across Canada. Carola can be reached at

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