High School Students Learn Workplace Safety

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As part of an effort to increase job-safety training and awareness among younger Americans, scientists from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have joined with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other groups to introduce health and safety training to Georgia high schools.

The aim: to try to ensure that young workers grasp job-safety basics before they ever reach the workplace.

GTRI instructors and others have already taught OSHA job-safety classes to three Georgia high schools, and more schools are scheduled to receive instruction. The effort stems from a 2006 agreement between OSHA, GTRI, Georgia schools and other groups to make safety and health training more available to the state's students.

"Today, it's an effort for many people in the workforce to remember safety basics - for example, to put their safety glasses on when working with chemicals," said Michelle L. Dunham, a research scientist in the Occupational Safety and Health Division of GTRI's Electronic Systems Laboratory (ELSYS). "We want to make it automatic for kids joining the workforce to take those kinds of precautions - the same way they always put on a seatbelt in a car because that's what they've grown up doing."

Students attend a10-hour course that's team-taught by OSHA and Georgia Tech instructors as well as industry representatives. The modular course covers general safety and health information as well as instruction pertaining to students' areas of work specialization.

"There are lots of different modules, and depending on the school, they'll vary," Dunham said. "We've started out teaching students going into the construction trades, but the course could be helpful to students in other study areas such as automotive and medical services."

To date, GTRI instructors and others have taught the 10-hour course at three Atlanta area high schools - Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, McEachern High School in Powder Springs and Dekalb High School of Technology-North in Dunwoody. Well over 100 students have completed the classes.

Those graduating receive the OSHA 10-hour card, which can give them an advantage with employers wanting to comply with OSHA regulations.

The course is rigorous, Dunham notes. Missing even a single class means a student does not receive a 10-hour card.

"We decided that this was an adult learning process," she said. "Students had to learn that this was like being on a job."

Dunham, an industrial hygienist, explains that the Georgia Tech Safety and Health Program also works directly with industry. Georgia Tech staff members perform on-campus training and consultation at the OSHA Training Institute Education Center, and also at job sites throughout Georgia and the Southeast.

Dunham believes the high-school training effort is an important new direction. It not only helps prepare students for the workplace, but it also can expand availability of the OSHA course by training high school faculty to teach it.

Bringing the OSHA 10-hour course to high schools is one of the first results of the Georgia Youth Alliance, a 2006 outreach agreement between OSHA, GTRI, the Georgia Department of Education, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the American Society of Safety Engineers and the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia.

Dunham -- a second-generation industrial hygienist (her father is also involved in the profession) -- was an initiator of the youth-outreach effort.

"The push to involve youth in health-safety training is big nationally, and since we wanted to make it work locally, I suggested the idea of an alliance," Dunham recalled. "Though we've started out small, there's opportunity for this to really grow through a variety of efforts. For example, we go to career fairs to get the message out, too."

The outreach effort is primarily funded by OSHA. It's also enjoyed volunteer support from industry groups that have participated in the teaching effort.

An additional benefit to youth outreach, she says, is that it informs students about the industrial-hygiene profession itself.

"We're trying to show young people that this is a really interesting career," said Dunham. "It's kind of like [the television program] "CSI," but it's in the workplace. You go in and you're the detective - somebody's complaining that they're having a hard time breathing, and you try to figure out what's causing that."

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Writer: Rick Robinson


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