Speakers' Message: Don't Get Hurt on the Job like Me

May 19, 2009
Nick Perry was 19 when a load of lumber fell on him and sent him to the hospital with life-changing injuries. Mike Lovett was 18 when his leg was mangled by sawmill machinery.

Perry, now an "incomplete paraplegic," and Lovett, outfitted with a prosthetic leg, will tell their stories to teens throughout Washington over the next 2 months to raise their awareness about on-the-job safety.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is sponsoring the two speakers as teens prepare to take summer jobs or graduate and move into the full-time workforce.

"All that independence that you worked so hard to gain can be taken away from you in a snap of your fingers," Perry tells teens. "Know your rights at work, because you can get hurt. Just look at what happened to me."

Perry and Lovett will talk with hundreds of students at more than 20 high schools and vocational schools in western, central and eastern Washington.

Steve Cant, assistant director for L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said the need to address workplace safety with teens is because they are injured on the job twice as often as adults. Teens are new to the workplace, don't have the years of experience of older workers, may have supervisors who don't focus enough on safety, and are hesitant to speak up on their first job and demand proper training.

"Work is a positive experience for young people and should be encouraged," Cant said. "But we want teens to realize there are potential dangers at work, and that there are things they can do about it. We need to reach teens early in their work lives about how to protect themselves from injuries like those suffered by Nick and Mike."

In Washington, some jobs are legally off limits to youth under 18, such as operating meat slicers, driving a forklift or going up on a roof.

"When Nick and Mike tell their personal stories of being badly injured on the job, they have students' complete attention," Cant said. The speakers tell students to be aware of safety, to follow the rules, to know what kind of work is prohibited and to speak up when necessary and insist on proper training.

Last year, L&I piloted this peer-to-peer education program, which uses young people from British Columbia who were injured on the job and who later are trained to tell their stories to teens. Surveys done after presentations at five Washington schools in 2008 showed a significant increase in awareness of workplace safety, so the program was greatly expanded this year.

Find more information about prohibited jobs, restricted work hours, minor work permits, workers' compensation cover.

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