Minnesota Pilot Program Aims to Teach Adolescents About Workplace Safety

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in Minnesota and in the United States. In rural Minnesota, adolescents frequently are employed in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs and are injured at a higher rate than older workers.

Recently, with funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Minnesota Department of Health evaluated the effectiveness of a pilot occupational safety and health curriculum for adolescents in rural Minnesota high schools.

"Work Safe Work Smart" was developed by public health professionals in collaboration with Minnesota teachers to explore occupational health and safety issues with high school students in an effort to reduce injury rates of young workers. It contains nine lessons to enhance knowledge, attitudes and beliefs related to occupational safety and health.

The "Work Safe Work Smart" curriculum was developed and pilot tested in high schools in three Minnesota counties between 1997 and 2000. From 2000 to 2004, more than 4,000 students from 38 Minnesota high schools in 31 counties participated in a study that helped public health officials evaluate the impact of the curriculum on student knowledge, attitudes and intentions regarding workplace health and safety.

The evaluation measured changes in attitudes and beliefs related to prevention, identified critical factors for incorporating the curriculum into existing school curricula and promoted dissemination and utilization of the curriculum in rural schools. Principal investigator Allan Williams said the educational program largely was a success.

"Adolescents exposed to the curriculum demonstrated measurable changes in several outcomes that may be associated with beneficial behaviors in occupational safety and health," Williams said. "The measured changes in knowledge, attitudes and beliefs were largely limited to the same school year in which the curriculum was taught, suggesting that adolescents may need to be exposed to concepts of occupational safety and health on an ongoing or repetitive basis."

In "Work Safe Work Smart," students use their personal experience of work-related injury to identify workplace hazards, brainstorm ways to protect workers from hazards and discuss barriers to making safe choices at work. Students also learn the laws governing work for those under the age of 18. The ultimate goal of this curriculum is to reduce work-related injury and illness by intervening with adolescents to develop a safe and healthy approach to their current and future work activities.

"Work Safe Work Smart" curriculum goals are to:

  • Raise student awareness of agricultural and non-agricultural workplace hazards that cause injuries or illness.
  • Equip students with prevention strategies that will protect them from injuries or illness in a variety of workplace settings.
  • Raise student awareness of employer/ee rights in the workplace.
  • Raise student awareness of the laws and resources available to help maintain those rights.
  • Encourage students to be active participants in creating safe and healthy work environments.

Following completion of the evaluation, more than 4,000 copies of the curriculum were requested on CD-ROM, and the curriculum was downloaded more than 11,000 times from the state Health Department Web site. The Work Safe Work Smart curriculum is available at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/cdee/occhealth/wsws.html.

Users of the program are encouraged to send their comments about the curriculum to nioshenews@cdc.gov.

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