Know it, own it, work it

If you’re between 15 and 25 and you’re working or looking for work – firstly, good on you for getting out there, and secondly, take a moment to think about how to keep the pressure off, stay on track and in control of your mental health.

Knowing the facts around injury rates, your rights at work, and types of support services can mean the difference between a rough start and a smooth one (so don’t brain dump all of the below!).

The stats:

  • In the three years between 2011/12 and 2013/14, over 45,000 young workers aged between 15 and 24 years old were hurt at work in NSW.
  • For 15-19 year olds injury rates could be six times higher because young workers often don’t report work injuries.
  • 18-24 year olds have a higher prevalence of mental illness than any other age group.
    If you’re going to get a lifelong mental illness, 50% of illnesses will start before 14 years of age.
  • When you’re young (up to your mid-20s), your still-developing brain means you’re also more vulnerable to mental illness.
  • If you get injured at work the likelihood of mental illness increases.
  • Here’s another downer: young people are also at a higher risk of getting hurt at work.

But now’s the time to crack a grimace because, let’s face it, being young is awesome when you’re on track.

You possess loads of energy, high-def emotions, an insatiable appetite for life – or just an insatiable appetite, and a plentiful supply of collagen. Just saying.

You’ve also got loads of support services available to help you cope when things get tough. And sometimes they do. Really tough.

Take David Finnimore for example. He was just 19 years old when he was involved in a catastrophic incident, resulting in the amputation of his right arm.

He was working as a general hand/labourer when the incident occurred.

“I remember walking to the area that I was assigned to. I heard someone call my name, so I turned around and that’s when my jumper sleeve got caught between a conveyer belt and a roller,” David said.

“I remember an immense amount of pain and then everything went cold.

“I’d say I was trapped for around 20 minutes plus.”

As colleagues and emergency workers worked to free him, David said his recollection of the incident has left emotional scars that are unlikely to fade.

“I saw my arm in a bag. It was amputated at the site. That’s not something I’ll ever forget,” he said.

David was taken to Liverpool Public Hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries in an effort to reattach his severed arm.

The procedures unfortunately failed, leaving no choice but to surgically amputate.

Months of rehabilitation then followed, with David having to re-learn basic movements.

He started slowly by learning to contract certain muscles. Months later he had progressed to using a prosthetic arm.

While the physical rehabilitation went according to plan, David said the psychological rehabilitation was another story.

“In those first few months it was the most depressing time of my life. I would breakdown out of nowhere. I couldn’t sleep because I was having flashbacks,” he said.

“But I had so much support from my friends and family. They would drop everything to help keep me on track.

“My dad was such an advocate for me. He really stepped up.”

David worked with a psychologist. He returned to the workplace briefly for about six months, however being at the site of his accident proved too difficult to bear.

“I had PTSD and flashbacks of the accident all the time,” he said.

“So I worked with WorkCover (now SafeWork NSW), and my management and we all agreed it would be good for me to move on.

“For me it really came down to the support that I had.”

Like David, support is available to you too. If you’re finding your mental state is declining, or you’re recovering from an injury at work, you are entitled to reasonable adjustments to help you do your job – this includes both physical and mental accommodation.

In addition, your boss should provide you with a safe place to work, tell you how to do the job safely, and provide the right protective equipment to do it.

You have the right to speak up and say so when you think something is unsafe or someone’s behaviour is making you upset.

And, you can flat out refuse if your boss or supervisor asks you to do something unreasonable or dangerous.

As for disclosing mental health issues – it’s really up to you. If you think it will impact on your work or you require extra support from your boss, then tell them. They must keep the information confidential and they must also provide reasonable adjustments for you.

The workplace should be an inclusive space. We’re working on that and you can help too.

Know your rights, know who is there to help, and speak up if you are concerned – for yourself and others. Visit the SafeWork NSW website or call us on 13 10 50.

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