It’s never too early to teach youth about worker health and safety

MPH student David Grim teaches teens how to stay safe on the job

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MPH student David Grim teaches a class regarding common on-the-job hazards facing teens at the 2013 4-H Summer Conference at Oregon State. Photo courtesy of Andy Hoffmann.

As a kid growing up in the timber industry, David Grim knew there were dangers associated with most every occupation.

His father owned a local logging company where he saw firsthand how risky some jobs could be.

“I learned a lot from working with my father, traveling with him, riding in his pickup, going to meetings and running heavy equipment,” he says.

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“I enjoyed being able to pass my knowledge onto somebody else and have them make it their own,” David says.

But it wasn’t until he became a medic on an ambulance when he realized that instead of helping people after they’ve been injured, he’d like to prevent them from being harmed.

“I always figured if they’re in the back of my ambulance, then they were not having a good day,” he says. “That got me thinking about how I could prevent that from happening in the first place.”

He decided the best way of doing so was to attend college and learn how to teach people how to stay safe on the job – no matter what their line of work might be.

Partially because he was raised to root for the Beavers – his father’s alma mater – and partially because he loved the campus, David chose to attend Oregon State.

A student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, David graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion and Health Behavior – but realized he wanted to further his education even more.

With the help of his mentor and instructor Shelley Su, David applied to graduate school to study Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety.

“She helped show me that it would be better to get my master’s if I wanted to be a successful health and safety professional in the working world,” he says. “And most importantly, she showed me that I was capable of doing it.”

During his first year in the MPH program, David worked on several youth workplace health and safety projects under the leadership of his graduate research supervisor, Assistant Professor Laurel Kincl.

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Assistant Professor Laurel Kincl helps teach the teen worker health and safety course at the 4-H Summer Conference. Photo courtesy of Andy Hoffmann.

“David is outstanding,” Laurel says. “I have watched him grow as an MPH student this past year and become more confident, take on more responsibility and apply what he is learning in his coursework and experience into his work.”

His goal is to teach high school-age youth how to recognize basic hazards, know their rights and responsibilities, empower them to speak up when necessary, and to be an overall safer and well-rounded worker.

In June, he taught a 90-minute class at the 4-H Summer Conference at Oregon State regarding common on-the-job hazards facing teens. The course was geared toward working teens or those looking for summer work.

His lessons use a NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) curriculum that include interactive games and activities to help youth learn about workplace safety and health in a fun, yet informative way.

“The idea of this course is to help them have an easier time understanding and recognizing hazards on the job, know their rights and when to speak up, and be able to teach it to somebody else,” David says.

Instrumental in helping coordinate a youth program at the Governor’s Occupational Health & Safety conference in Portland, he recruited teachers to get involved in the program and helped organize group activities for high school students exploring workplace safety and health.

“You could tell they really took home important information they learned in the program,” he says.David-Grim-synergies

He also helped teach a small group of peer trainers at the Green Corps-Fresh Start youth farm at the Clackamas County Juvenile Department. Those students will, in turn, teach their peers what they learned about occupational health and safety awareness.

“It helps us solidify how important it is, and I think it takes the message home a little better if they see their fellow peers excited about it and wanting to learn about it,” he says. “I enjoyed being able to pass my knowledge onto somebody else and have them make it their own.”

One thing David would like teens to know is that they are at greater risk of injury going into a job due to their lack of experience and training.

“They’re in a time of their life when this knowledge is really important,” he says. “Most places, including schools, aren’t teaching any occupational health and safety courses, which is why these programs I’ve been helping with are so important.”

“Teaching teens basic workplace health and safety skills can help them to be successful, rather than an injury statistic, and can hopefully set them up for a lifetime of safe work,” Laurel says.

On top of the courses he’s been helping teach, David is also working with Laurel and Associate Professor Simon Driver on an intervention for people with disabilities. The web-based program will integrate workplace safety and health promotion.

After graduation, David hopes to work as a health and safety coordinator for a private industry – particularly the timber industry.

“I have my own passion for that industry and know what the dangers are, and I will be able to take the knowledge I’ve learned throughout my schooling and apply it to the workforce,” he says.