Young worker case studies

The following case studies provide real-life examples of the impact that work-related injuries have on young workers and the steps employers can take to protect their health and safety.

Alex's story

My co-worker was bullying me so I spoke up

Alex was 16 years old when they started working at a local fast food restaurant. Alex was studying VCE at TAFE and was excited about gaining some extra independence through their new casual job.

Six months in, Alex became the target of verbal abuse. One of Alex's co-workers repeatedly called them names and went out of their way to intimidate them. Once, they even threw food at Alex in the kitchen.

Alex didn't want to make trouble, but what was happening was really starting to affect them. They dreaded coming to work, and didn’t want to talk to their co-worker.

Alex's parents noticed that Alex seemed down and withdrawn after work. They asked Alex how things were going at work as Alex seemed unhappy. Alex told them what had been happening and they encouraged Alex to raise it with their manager as soon as possible. Alex’s parents explained that Alex's employer has a legal responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, that health and safety includes mental health, and that if Alex raised the issue the employer is required to take action.

Alex made a time to sit down and tell their manager about the bullying and how it was making them unhappy and anxious. The manager listened to Alex, apologised and made it clear that the co-worker's behaviour was unacceptable.

In response to this disclosure, the manager:

  • explained that this was a breach of the workplace code of conduct and in line with procedure they issued the co-worker with an official warning explaining that the organisation has a zero-tolerance approach to bullying
  • went over the code of conduct in the next staff meeting (with Alex's consent) outlining what constitutes bullying and the channels for reporting these issues
  • dropped by the kitchen frequently to quickly address any unacceptable behaviour
  • provided Alex with details about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and let them know that they can also contact WorkSafe’s Advisory Service, or other agencies such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
  • continued to check in regularly with Alex to ensure that the bullying had stopped

Alex's manager could see that this behaviour created a psychosocial risk in the workplace. To prevent incidents of bullying occurring in the future, the manager:

  • consulted with employees including the health and safety representative (HSR) to understand the hazards and risks for bullying in the workplace and took action to address them
  • reviewed the code of conduct in consultation with employees including the HSR to ensure that the unacceptability of these behaviours is clearly addressed
  • engaged a provider to deliver annual 'bystander action training' to all staff, and committed to attending the training as well, as a way of learning more themselves and demonstrating the workplace’s commitment to addressing this behaviour

Shalin's story

My employer should have been shown me how to do my job safely

Shalin was in year 11 when they began working at a local restaurant. All staff at the restaurant were expected to be able to complete a range of duties including cooking, food prep, customer service, cleaning and stock handling.

When Shalin started at the restaurant they hit the ground running from their first shift. It was the same for their co-workers. They never received OHS training and supervision. 'It has been a lot of trial and error' they said, 'we all just figure it out as we go'.

During a shift Shalin was restocking the drinks fridge. The restaurant was busy and to save time Shalin tried to put multiple glass bottles of soft drink into the fridge. Shalin dropped the bottles, and glass and soft drink went everywhere. Shalin had a co-worker keep the area clear to prevent anyone slipping and immediately reported the hazard to their supervisor who was out the back.

The supervisor on duty did the right thing and responded by:

  • putting up signs to indicate the area was unsafe
  • providing staff with PPE and equipment to safely clean the area and remove the glass

After the incident, the employer thought about how to prevent similar things happening in the future. The employer realised they had not met their legal duties and that they needed to make some changes to protect the health and safety of young workers now and into the future. They:

  • consulted with employees including the HSR in the preparation of a risk control plan by identifying hazards, assessing risks and determining methods to control the risks
  • consulted with employees including the HSR in the development of OHS policies and procedures
  • developed systems of work to prevent workplace injuries (for example, a procedure that detailed how to safely handle bottles when stocking the fridge)
  • provided supervisors with an OHS induction checklist to ensure all new workers know how to do their job safely
  • added OHS to the team meeting agenda so staff can raise issues or concerns as they arise

Jamie's story

I nearly fell off the roof and I decided to tell my boss about the near miss

Jamie was 16 years old when they began their apprenticeship. On their first day Jamie was provided with OHS training and supervision to ensure they could do their job safety.

Jamie was excited to be starting their new career and wanted to make a great first impression. Jamie wasn’t sure about a few of the safety instructions they were given about working on roofs but they didn’t want their boss or co-workers to think they didn’t know what they were doing.

Six days into Jamie's apprenticeship, they almost fell off the roof.

Jamie reported the near miss to their boss and bravely told them that they didn't completely understand the safety instructions they were given about working on the roof, but didn’t speak up because they were worried about what they might think.

Jamie’s boss thanked them for being honest and for coming forward to report the near miss. The boss explained, 'Communication is key on the job. If you don’t understand something it is so important that you let me know. You're learning - we understand that'.

To encourage young workers to speak up in the future Jamie’s boss made the following changes:

  • introduced the 'tell me, watch me, show me' approach to OHS training and supervision to ensure new and young workers have understood what they need to know to stay safe at work
  • paired all new and young workers with a buddy (senior staff member) who would check in on safety issues with the young worker
  • encouraged new and young workers to report any hazards, near misses or injuries no matter how small to the boss, HSR or the WorkSafe Advisory Service

Huan's story

A customer racially abused me and I immediately reported them to my supervisor

Huan was 15 when they got their first job working at a retail store that was located in a busy shopping centre. They were casual and worked mainly on weekends or after school.

Huan was stacking shelves one day when they suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of verbal racial abuse. Huan, shocked and upset, immediately reported the incident to their supervisor.

Huan's supervisor located the customer and had security escort them out of the store, banning them from re-entering. The supervisor then checked in with Huan to see how they were feeling. They requested that a trusted co-worker accompany Huan to take some time out after the incident. When Huan returned, the supervisor gave them the choice to continue their shift or go home. Huan agreed to continue working. Following the incident Huan's supervisor:

  • provided Huan with details about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and let them know that they can also contact WorkSafe's Advisory Service, or other agencies such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
  • documented the incident in the injury register
  • encouraged staff to report all incidents of violence and aggression in the future

To prevent incidence of occupational violence and aggression occurring in the future the manager:

  • consulted with employees to understand the hazards and risks for occupational violence and aggression and took action to address them
  • reviewed their occupational violence and aggression policies and procedures in consultation with staff at the next team meeting
  • engaged a provider to deliver annual training for staff on de-escalation, early intervention and management of incidents of violence and aggression

Vivian's story

He wouldn't leave me alone so I spoke to our HSR

Vivian, an international student from Vietnam, was 21 when she started working casually at a popular student bar. Vivian was enjoying studying abroad and needed to work to support herself during her stay.

Vivian noticed that one of the senior staff members would stare at her while she was working and make excuses to brush past her, particularly when the bar was busy. It made her very uncomfortable but she didn't want to raise the issue with her boss because she was worried she might lose her job. At the end of one shift, the staff member asked her out for a drink, but Vivian politely declined.

Late one night after a shift Vivian received a text message from the staff member saying how good she had looked that night and asking her to come over to his place for sex. Vivian called a co-worker the next day and told her about what had been happening. Her co-worker explained that Vivian has the right to be safe at work and encouraged her to speak to her boss or the HSR or to call the WorkSafe Advisory Service.

Vivian decided to raise the issue with the HSR. The HSR listened to Vivian and acknowledged that speaking up about this issue may not have been easy. The HSR, knowing this was a serious health and safety issue, coordinated a time for them to raise the issue with their boss, David.

David thanked Vivian for coming forward and apologised for the negative experience she has had in the workplace. David knows that work-related sexual harassment can cause mental injury and that an employer has an obligation under the OHS Act to control the risk. This is in addition to their obligation under the Equal Opportunity Act to take reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment. In response to Vivian's disclosure, David:

  • explained that this a breach of the workplace code of conduct and in line with the procedure he issued the staff member with an official warning
  • provided Vivian with details about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and let her know that she could also contact WorkSafe's Advisory Service, or other agencies such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
  • documented the incident in the injury register
  • went over the code of conduct in the next staff meeting (with Vivian's consent) outlining what constitutes gendered violence including sexual harassment, that it is unacceptable and the channels for reporting these issues
  • continued to check in regularly with Vivian to ensure that the unacceptable behaviour had stopped
  • asked if there was anything more Vivian would like him to do to ensure she felt safe coming to work

To prevent gendered violence including sexual harassment in the workplace now and in the future David:

  • consulted with employees and the HSR to understand the hazards and risks for gendered violence including sexual harassment and took action to address them
  • reviewed the code of conduct in consultation with employees and the HSR to ensure that the unacceptability of these behaviours is clearly addressed and reporting procedures
  • engaged a provider to deliver annual 'bystander action training' to all staff, and committed to attending the training as well, as a way of learning more and demonstrating the workplace's commitment to addressing this behaviour