By Julie Duffy, Child Labor Coalition Intern
No one expected 18 year-old Sophie Nieto Munoz’s first overnight shift at the Pathmark grocery store in Old Bridge, New Jersey to be her last. Sadly, however, the recent high school graduate lost her life after being fatally shot by a co-worker suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Munoz’s tragic and deadly story of workplace violence is not as uncommon as you might think.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 2 million Americans workers, as young as 15, report being victims of workplace violence each year. OSHA classifies workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” The United States Department of Labor cites workplace violence as the fourth leading cause in workplace deaths. Teens are often the most susceptible to workplace violence because they are not properly trained in workplace safety and activism. Proper training, for both teens and their employers could save many young lives.
On June 23rd, David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, and teen safety peer educators held a phone press conference on how to prevent workplace violence. The panel stressed the importance of training programs about workplace safety. Such training programs can teach teens about identifying an unsafe work environment and how to voice their concerns to their employers. Training programs can also help educate employers on how to maintain a safe workplace. Under OSHA’s mandates, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe place of employment free from recognized hazards, including workplace violence. This could mean increased use of safety cameras, working alarms, workplace panic buttons, or the presence of security guards.
Since 1978 the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program has trained over 1.8 million workers and employers about how to recognize and prevent health and safety hazards in their workplaces. This summer “Teens Lead @ Work,” a project of Massachusetts Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, plans to educate 540 younger workers between the ages 15-22 on workplace safety in Massachusetts. When it comes to ending workplace violence empowerment is key. Teens should feel confident in the safety of their work environment and comfortable addressing their employers when they feel their workplace is unsafe.