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I follow safety instructions — they didn’t make them as a joke

I follow safety instructions — they didn’t make them as a joke

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Tomas Bertelsen

For Mathias Schou Sørensen and many other young Danes, a supermarket job is their first step into working life and their first meeting with work environment challenges — of which young people get more than their fair share.

Young people and new employees are more often victims of workplace accidents and physical strain like heavy lifting and poor working positions compared to their more experienced colleagues. This is particularly the case for 19 year old Mathias Schou Sørensen. He has been taught how to look after himself and his colleagues at the Copenhagen supermarket where he works:

“I have received good training in how to work safely. We have equipment and rules which help us avoid heavy lifting, for instance. I follow the rules, because they didn’t make them as a joke, and I immediately feel it if I lift something heavy rather than spending 30 seconds extra by using the equipment.”

14 out of 16 employees are young

Despite his young age, Mathias Schou Sørensen has already four years’ experience from working life: at 15 he got his first job with the retail chain Føtex, and while he studied at college he worked part time with supermarket chain Netto where he now has got a full time job. The shop lies in the centre of Copenhagen and employs 16 people — 14 of them are under 24. Having many colleagues is one of the reasons Mathias Schou Sørensen is very happy in his job:

“I really enjoy my job, and that is mainly because we are so many young workers here. I am on the same wavelength as my colleagues because they too are young, and the atmosphere is great. We work well together.”

He says his colleagues are considerate and good at looking after each other. He is struggling with a bad knee after a sports injury which means he must be extra careful with lifting boxes and moving pallets. The others are very considerate when it comes to this, he feels.

Wants to study more

A few months after getting his job, he was promoted from sales assistant to first assistant, which means that he is responsible for opening and shutting the shop on some days of the week. Sometimes on an evening shift he will encounter an unpleasant customer, but he has so far not been the victim of a robbery and he has never been scared:

“I don’t see it as a major problem, because my boss has been very thorough when explaining how we should react.”

For now Mathias Schou Sørensen is working full time, which means 37 hours a week. But he can’t see himself working in a supermarket in the long term. The plan is to save money to travel, and then he will apply to go to university. 

“I don’t think I’ll be here for the rest of my working life, even though I really like my job. My knee isn’t up to this kind of physical work, and I would like to study economy. But I can imagine doing shifts here while I’m studying too."


Young people and work environments

Young and newly employed people are particularly vulnerable in the labour market and suffer more often from accidents compared to their more experienced colleagues. Young Danish men between 18 and 24 run a 40 percent greater risk of having a workplace accident, while the risk to women in the same age group is a full 80 percent greater compared to the average. This is partly due to physical strains like heavy lifting and poor working positions. People between 18 and 24 report more pulling and pushing at work, more back-twisting work or working leaning forward and less sitting down time than people over 30.  

On the other hand, young and newly employed Danish workers feel they enjoy a better psychological work environment than their older colleagues in many areas — e.g. less time pressure, better leadership and fewer emotional demands.

Sources: Young workers’ work environment in Nordic countries, 2013, Work Environment and Health 2012, NFA, and more.

Five tips to help young and newly employed people get a good start at work
  1. Remember that young workers are as different as everybody else. They should not be treated as a uniform group. They are on very different paths in their transformation from youth to adulthood and from school to working life.
  2. Focus on how work is organised and on the work culture in which the young employee finds him or herself. The context in which they work is very important to their health and safety.
  3. All employees must be given a skills-based and effective introduction, training and continuous followup — including part timers.
  4. Avoid passing on bad routines to new employees. Find alternatives to peer-to-peer training or risk passing on bad habits and routines.
  5. Remember to secure a ‘no blame’ and educational work culture when it comes to negative events like accidents, bullying etc.

Source: Senior researchers Pete Kines and Johnny Dyreborg, The National Research Centre for the Working Environment and Mette Lykke Nielsen, The Danish Centre for Youth Research.


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