What do I need to know about the working environment?
A reminder for young employees
You are more likely to be involved in an occupational accident than a more experienced employee.
There are no dumb questions. Dare to ask if you are not sure how to work safely.
Use personal protective equipment if required by the working environment.
Tell your employer if the work equipment or personal protective equipment provided are not suitable for you.
Pay attention to your health.
Instruction and training
The employer shall arrange for instruction and training for new employees. Cooperation between the employer and employee is important to ensure their efficiency. The employer prepares instructions and appoints a competent supervisor, the employee reads or listens carefully to the instructions and learns the new work properly during the training. Instruction and training must be taken seriously for maximum benefit. The instructions shall be read thoroughly and additional information should be requested from the supervisor if anything is unclear.
The idea of instruction and training is to give the employee an ability to perform his or her work in a manner that is safe for both him- or herself and for his or her colleagues. If the employee later feels that he or she does not remember everything that is written in the manual exactly, he or she should ask for the instruction to be repeated.
Instruction and training is aimed at teaching a new employee. The goal is met if the young person is able to perform his or her work safely. Many occupational accidents occur due to a lack of instruction and training: an employee cannot avoid a hazard that he or she is not aware of.
Cooperation between the young employee and the supervisor is important during training – one of them wants to teach and the other wants to learn. If an employee feels that the experienced employee assigned to train him or her is not performing this task properly, he or she shall notify his or her supervisor. If the pace of the training is too fast and the employee has not been able to learn one task before moving on to the next, this shall also be reported.
The young employee must dare to ask for clarifications or instructions if he or she did not understand the explanations. For example, if the employee did not understand exactly how to put on a face mask with a filter, he or she should ask the supervisor to show it again. The supervisor shall make sure that the young employee is able to use the personal protective equipment properly. Improperly used personal protective equipment does not provide the protection that the employee needs and may result in damage to the employee’s health.
If a young employee is given personal protective equipment that is not suitable for any reason, the employer shall be notified. The suitability of personal protective equipment is highly individual and it is not possible for the employer to find out whether it is suitable or not without information from the employee.
The employer should be notified of any problems or misunderstandings related to instruction, training and suitability or use of personal protective equipment so that the problem could be resolved. An employer cannot solve a problem of which he or she is not aware.
Any questions that a young employee has in the course of instruction or training are justified and the employee should dare to ask them.
Instruction and training should not only focus on what the employee has to do, but also what he or she should not do, such as which equipment and premises or parts of the territory are so hazardous that they can only be used by employees who have undergone special training. It is understandable that a young person is enthusiastic and wants to do everything and help others; however, they should be careful because they may cause damage to their own health or the health of colleagues if they have insufficient knowledge of the work process.
Personal protective equipment
If hazards are present in the work of an employee and the employer requires the use of personal protective equipment to protect the employee from such hazards, the employee shall use it. The aim of the obligation to wear personal protective equipment is not to harass employees, but to protect their health. It is not a matter of pride to not use personal protective equipment.
The use of personal protective equipment may in some cases seem pointless, as the potential damage to health does not occur immediately after a single non-use of personal protective equipment, but develops over a long period of time. For example, hearing loss develops over 5 to 10 years and therefore gives the employee the impression that if he or she does not use ear muffs or ear plugs, nothing will happen. And nothing will happen – nothing will happen today or tomorrow or not even in a year. But once hearing loss develops, it is irreversible and modern medicine cannot eliminate it.
Personal protective equipment used in some work and working environments is designed to save a person’s life. Failure to use such personal protective equipment is likely to result in death or very serious and irreversible damage to health. For example, fall protection equipment (safety harnesses) is provided to prevent falls from heights. The main reason why they are not used is because they are uncomfortable. At this point, one should seriously think about what is more uncomfortable – to use fall protection equipment and go home in the evening, safe and sound, or to fall from a roof at the height of five metres, for example?
If an employer has issued fall protection equipment to the employees, he or she shall also organise training for the employees. This is very specific equipment which does not protect employees if it is not used properly. If the employer does not provide training or if the training is very general and limited to providing the employee with instructions for the use of personal protective equipment, the training is not sufficient and the employee should request training or additional instructions from the employer.
Be aware of hazards
Young people can benefit a great deal from work experience, as it offers a great opportunity to acquire important work skills, but as a young person commencing work, you are more at risk than your older co-workers. However, gaining work experience must be safe and not harmful to your health.
Both the work and workplace are new to you, you have no experience, and the work or working environment can be dangerous. You have the right to safe and healthy work, including the right to receive the necessary training and guidance, to ask questions and to report things that seem dangerous to you.
- If you are a minor, the law prohibits you from doing certain hazardous work. Restrictions on the work to be performed are listed in Regulation No. 94 of 11.06.2009 of the Government of the Republic
- “List of occupational hazards and work prohibited to minors”. For example, there are restrictions on noise level. If the noise level in the working environment exceeds 85 dB, adult workers shall wear hearing protection. However, minors may not work in a working environment where the noise level exceeds 80 dB.
- Minors are prohibited from performing work involving a risk of falling from a height or work with a mechanical cutter, circular saw, band saw, milling cutter, welding device or a device using compressed air. The regulation provides a list of hazard classes and hazard categories of hazardous chemicals that minors shall not be exposed to.
- Regulation No. 26 of the Minister of Social Affairs of 27 February 2001 “The occupational health and safety requirements for manual handling of loads” also imposes a special requirement on the work of minors: if manual handling comprises the main part of an employee’s working time, an employee who is over 18 years of age may be employed for manual handling of items that are 5 kg and heavier. Manual handling is prohibited for minors under the age of 16.
The restriction is imposed due to the inability of minors to perceive danger because of their lack of experience or training and the fact that they are unable to sufficiently focus on safety.
NB! As a young person, you have the right to express doubts about things that seem dangerous. Unfortunately, young people often feel too insecure to talk about their suspicions or simply accept the situation because they want to prove to their employer and co-workers that they can handle everything on their own and are not scared. But this may endanger their lives! Your life!
- If a young worker has any doubts regarding the safety and organisation of any aspect of his or her work, he or she has the right and obligation to inform his or her supervisor and to refuse to perform hazardous work. A young person is not obliged to do something dangerous simply because their supervisor or co-worker does it.
- If employees in your company have chosen a representative for occupational health and safety issues, i.e. a working environment representative, talk to him or her about your problem.
- It makes sense to tell your friends and parents and a trusted adult about your working conditions. They probably have experience with occupational health and safety in their current or previous place of work and can give advice on how to avoid problems that they have had to face.
- If you do not receive help or cannot find a solution to your problem within the company, you have the opportunity to turn to the Labour Inspectorate for help.
- In addition to looking out for your own safety, you need to know how to perform work without endangering your co-workers. Think about how you would feel if something happened to another employee because of your actions or inactions, even if it was not directly your fault. That is why you need to know what your employer is required to do to protect you, what you need to do yourself, and what your rights are.
Make sure the workplace is safe
As a young worker, you should only stay in the area assigned to you by your employer for at least some time after you commence work. First, familiarise yourself with your workplace so that you can feel safe there.
- It is not advisable for you to go to the workplaces of your co-workers where you do not have to perform tasks, because you do not know the specifics of the work performed there and the risks involved. Although this may seem interesting and you may want to get an overview of the company’s activities, it can endanger yourself and those co-workers whose workplaces you visit on your own initiative.
- There may be hazards outside your workplace that you are unaware of, such as moving tools, loads moved with lifting equipment, slippery floors, or hazardous chemicals.
- Try to make your workplace ergonomic. An employee who worked in the same workplace before you may have been of a different height and thus a workplace designed for him or her is not suitable for you. In many cases, the height of worktops and office chairs can be changed. For example, a taller employee requires a higher worktop so that they would not have to hunch down while working.
- An ergonomically correct work area is even required for seemingly safe work like working with a monitor. Otherwise, musculoskeletal disorders will soon occur. If you lack the necessary skills or still feel uncomfortable in your workplace after adjusting it yourself, ask for help from your supervisor, working environment specialist or working environment representative. About a quarter of all accidents at work are caused by slips and trips. Therefore, it is important to keep the workplace tidy. Do not leave anything in the pathways or place objects there. If you need to install cables or hoses for tools, make sure that they do not obstruct the movement of yourself or your colleagues.
- A large proportion of accidents at work do not occur in the course of normal operation of machinery and equipment, but rather when they are maintained, repaired or a fault is being rectified. You have to realise that you may only perform tasks that you are competent to perform. If maintenance and repairs are assigned to a technician, you as a user of the tool may not perform these tasks yourself and must give notice that this work is required.
As with all other employees, an employer has an obligation to arrange a medical examination for an employee who is a minor. The medical examination is based on a risk assessment of the working environment and the medical examination shall be organised during working time and at the expense of the employer. The initial medical examination of an employee shall be performed within four months as of the time the employee commences work and afterwards at the interval set by the occupational health doctor but at least once a year for employees who are minors.
In most cases, employees who are minors are special because they generally only work for a short period of time (for example, a few weeks in a youth brigade). In addition, an employee who is a minor is not exposed to most of the risk factors for which a medical examination is required, as minors are not allowed to come into contact with many such risk factors.
For example, a medical examination shall be organised for employees if they are exposed to oak or beech dust (carcinogenic effect). However, employees who are minors are prohibited from working in contact with carcinogenic substances and therefore a medical examination is not necessary.
It should be pointed out that minors are not prohibited from coming into contact with all risk factors that necessitate medical examination.
A medical examination shall be organised for an employee who is a minor who:
- works more than half the working time with display screen equipment;
- is exposed to dust (e.g., metal dust, wood dust with the exception of exposure to hardwood dust, such as dust created in processing beech or oak which is carcinogenic and to which minors may not be exposed to, flour dust);
- is exposed to biocides;
- comes into contact with a biological risk factor of risk group 2 (for example, he or she may contract toxoplasmosis when cleaning sandboxes on a children’s playground or have contact with a tick that is a carrier of Lyme disease when raking leaves in a green area).
A medical examination shall also be organised for a minor who performs repetitive movements of the same type, forced positions and movements in the course of the work which cause fatigue (work that is performed constantly standing or sitting) or if the minor performs constant repetitive movements with his or her hands (e.g. painting, provided that the use of a specific paint is not prohibited for minors).
The need for a medical examination of an employee who is a minor will be ascertained in the course of a risk assessment of the working environment which shall be carried out in the same way as when deciding on the need for a medical examination for a regular employee.
The activities of many young employees in the place of work involve the use of machinery and equipment. Hazardous equipment is not only used in manufacturing companies, but also, for example, in the kitchens of catering companies. The work equipment used should be safe, but improper handling can expose employees to risks that are generally mitigated. Therefore, it is important that you only use machinery and equipment for which you have received instruction and training.
To reduce the risks posed by the work equipment, guards and safety devices are installed on the work equipment. Their objective is to ensure the safety of users and therefore removing or improperly adjusting the guards and safety devices is not allowed, although it may seem at first that work could be performed faster and more conveniently after the adjustments.
A large proportion of accidents at work do not occur in the course of the normal operation of machinery and equipment, but rather when they are maintained, repaired or a fault is being rectified. You have to realise that you may only perform tasks that you are competent to perform. If maintenance and repairs are assigned to a technician, you as a user of the tool may not perform these tasks yourself and must give notice that this work is required.
If you have experienced damage to your health in the course of performing work (i.e. you have had an occupational accident), you must immediately notify your employer or his or her representative and the working environment representative. They shall also be informed of an accident or a risk thereof and of any disorders which impede the performance of your duties. If you contact a doctor with regard to damage to health experienced due to an occupational accident, be sure to mention that the injury was caused in the course of work. If the incident is not initially recorded as an occupational accident, it is much harder to prove it later. It may not be clear how serious the injury is and how it will heal immediately after an occupational accident.
Working environment manual
Occupational health and safety means taking care of health and safety at present and in the future in order to prevent as many risks to the employees’ health as possible. A holistic approach to introducing occupational health and safety should start at school.
The working environment manual is intended as an educational resource for young learners in vocational education institutions, working environment educators, as well as supervisors in enterprises where practical training is carried out. Young employees should be able to recognise and assess risks in their working environment when they commence work.
The original version of the manual was prepared in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation and the Swedish Industrial Safety Council and in 2012, it was amended by the Ministry of Social Affairs pursuant to the Estonian legislation. In compiling the manual, we have used materials from the European Agency for Safety & Health at Work, the European Commission and research articles that help to understand and implement the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in force in Estonia.
The Council Directive on measures to improve the safety and health of workers at work provides that particularly sensitive groups shall be protected from hazards to which they are exposed. Children and adolescents belong in the abovementioned risk group and measures shall be taken to ensure their health and safety. Employers, educators, persons responsible for health and safety at work in the enterprise, policy-makers and young people themselves all have a responsibility to ensure the occupational health and safety of young persons and to inform young persons about potential hazards and all measures taken to protect health and safety.
According to European statistics, young persons aged 18–24 have a 50% higher risk of being involved in an occupational accident compared to other age groups. The consequences of an accident can have an impact on the rest of their lives. Each Member State shall protect young persons from hazards resulting from their inexperience, lack of knowledge on existing or potential hazards or even immaturity.
Exposing young persons to risk prevention culture early on helps to ensure their safety throughout their working lives.
Download the working environment manual (in Estonian)