Students receive a lesson in safety

State program highlights workplace perils in effort to cut accident rate among younger workers

lpemberton@theolympian.comJune 2, 2014 

People often get their first jobs between 16 and 24 years of age.

And, chances are, that’s when they might experience their first workplace accident.

“That group, for some reason, has twice the accident rate of other workers,” said Xenofon Moniodis with the state Department of Labor and Industries.

About 70 workplace accidents a day involve younger workers in the state, he said.

“Some of these injuries are life-changing,” Moniodis said.

The state hopes to lower those rates with its Injured Young Workers Speakers Program, which was presented last week to students at New Market Skills Center in Tumwater.

The program featured a video called “Lost Youth,” which has graphic re-enactments of four real workplace accidents that involved teens. It also included a presentation by Matt Pomerinke of Longview, who talked about how his arm was caught in an unguarded conveyer drive chain at a sawmill when he was 21.

He had to have his arm amputated just below the elbow.

“Every job has hazards,” Pomerinke told students, adding that accidents can even happen at fast food restaurants where workers deal with greasy floors and sharp knives.

Young people have the right to be trained on how to use equipment safely, he said.

And if they don’t feel safe doing something, or if they see a coworker do something unsafe, they should speak up, Pomerinke said.

“Nobody wants to go up to their buddy and say, ‘You’re doing it wrong,’” he told the students.

But speaking up could save that person from a workplace accident, he added.

L&I has reached about 3,000 students around the state with the Injured Young Workers Speakers Program, which began in June 2008. It’s been offered at high schools, technical colleges, Job Corps schools and skills centers, according to L&I’s website.

At last week’s presentation at New Market, Pomerinke recalled being so thrilled about his first job, he would do whatever he could to please his bosses and coworkers, even if it meant taking shortcuts or working on dangerous equipment without proper training.

Pomerinke talked about the night of the accident, his surgeries and how his outlook on workplace safety changed.

“It affects you and your family and your coworkers,” Pomerinke said. “… The injury just follows your future. It never goes away.”

New Market’s students seemed captivated by Pomerinke’s presentation.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Derrick Young, 19. “He was quite thorough on everything, and I felt his experience.”

“It was awesome,” added Dakota Tryon, 18. “I’ve never really been sucked into a presentation like that.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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