Start Young - Stay Safe

Experts attending a European seminar on occupational safety and health and education this week in Bilbao, Spain, agreed that children should be taught to live and work safely, the earlier, the better.

Experts attending a European seminar on occupational safety and health and education this week in Bilbao, Spain, agreed that children should be taught to live and work safely, the earlier, the better.

The world can be a dangerous place, said the experts at the seminar, and they agreed that it''s never too soon to get that message across, even to very young children. It''s also a process that should continue throughout their schooldays and beyond, they said.

Too many young people enter the world of work without sufficient knowledge of the health risks they are going to face, said Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, one of the organizers of the seminar.

"If children are made aware of health and safety issues at an early age, they''re much more likely to successfully manage such risks in later life. The message from this seminar is clear: ''start young, stay safe,''" he added.

According to data presented at the seminar, young people are not sufficiently prepared to meet health risks at work. Recent European research indicates that young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are 1.4 times more likely than the average worker to suffer a work-related accident.

If that statistic is to be improved, learning about health and safety - risk education - needs to begin right at the start of a child''s education, say the experts. Children should be made aware of what''s dangerous in their environment - at home, at school and at play - and what they can do to help both themselves and those around them to stay safe.

The experts agreed that teachers need resources and skills to pass on the knowledge to children, and so will parents if they are to provide support outside the classroom. Clear, common goals need to be established between health and labor agencies and other key organizations to ensure that learning about safety and health forms part of all levels of education and training.

In Europe, the new European Union occupational health and safety strategy could provide a major framework for developing education and training on workplace health and safety as part of a prevention culture. Existing European funds could be used to support this goal.

Juan Carlos Aparicio, the Spanish minister of Employment and Social Affairs, said that society "cannot talk about health at work as a social reality if we only think about it when we need it or when an accident happens. We have to integrate the value of health at work in a steady and progressive way. Therefore it is essential that this is part of education, from primary school onwards."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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