By National COSH, written by Miles Cleveland.
I am working as a peer leader with the Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) in upstate New York, a proud sister community organization to OSHA that focuses on the safety of youth workers. I have received a plethora of eye opening information about what a safe work environment truly means, and how each and every worker contributes to how safe and welcoming a workplace can be. Speaking up about hazards you have found in the workplace, while it can be an incredibly daunting and even frightening task, is an important duty. Whether it be a hazard of chemicals, or repetitive motions, or faulty machinery, or clients, or even your coworkers, it is important to know that when you feel your safety is at risk you are not alone. Not only do organizations like Midstate COSH and OSHA stand behind you, but your fellow coworkers as well (even if it may not seem like it.)
As a young worker, I wish I had known about that sooner. When I was about 13 years old, I volunteered at a nursing home. Having no prior knowledge about what a workplace hazard may look like aside from exposed wires or dangerous machinery, I went into that situation extremely ignorant.
When I was faced with an older coworker of mine who was acting inappropriately towards me over the course of multiple shifts, (touching my hair, telling me how pretty I was, asking me where I lived) I was at a loss. My supervisor didn’t seem to take my experience seriously, perhaps because the harasser in question had seniority over me. Not only that, talking to her only seemed to make my coworkers resent me. With no clue where to turn for support in a seemingly hopeless, terrifying situation, I quit the program.
Knowing what I know now from training provided to me on preventing and reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, I really regret that I dropped that position. I regret that nobody told me sooner that there are multiple organizations out there that could support me. Also, I didn’t have anybody to tell me that my experience was far from normal.
Every worker deserves the knowledge and support necessary to speak up in these situations; especially working youth. In fact, it is our duty on behalf of ourselves and our coworkers to speak up when we experience or witness something like this. I’m very thankful that I know what I do now through the training provided to me by Midstate COSH, and that I have the peace of mind when I go to work knowing how to address these kinds of issues.