New app alerts young workers about safety

One of this year’s Union Learning Fund innovation projects has developed an app to engage apprentices and other young workers about staying safe.

New unionlearn app
© Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC) has launched a new app to help apprentices and other young workers stay safe in the workplace – especially if their employers don’t recognise a trade union.

GMHC developed the app, Training Safe, with the help of an innovation project through the Union Learning Fund (ULF) that also backed the production of a portfolio of printed resources to help young workers.

The need for the kind of awareness-raising that the app can deliver is clear from the data. According to the latest TUC report on young workers, every month a worker aged under 25 is killed at work and over 300 suffer a major injury.

Project Worker Janet Newsham explained:

It’s absolutely imperative that apprentices and all young workers are better educated about health and safety because we know most of them are not going into union organised workplaces.”

That means they’re in really vulnerable positions in workplaces where their health, safety and welfare isn’t going to be one of the top priorities, so it’s essential to get them direct support, which we can do through the app.”

Placing young people, with their beliefs in their own invincibility, in workplaces where safety is not prioritised, let alone improved through training, can have consequences that range from the dangerous to the fatal.

In addition, recent apprenticeship reforms have not always supported health and safety, Janet points out. For example, removing the requirement on training providers to undertake detailed risk assessments of the workplaces where their apprentices are working has resulted in rigorous checks being replaced by the circulation of checklists.

When GMHC secured the funding, it set up a steering group to oversee the work that included unionlearn National Apprenticeship Project Officer Mark Rowe and ULF National Coordinator Julia Jones plus two of Janet’s colleagues from GMHC, Caroline Bedale and Hilda Palmer.

Other members able to contribute their own expertise to the project included Dave Foy from LOcHER, which works to help young workers understand workplace safety; Damian Holohan, the senior rep at the nuclear fuel operation Westinghouse, who is the lead on the in-house apprentice mentoring scheme; Mary Sayer from Unite in Schools; and Manchester College Trade Union Education Tutor Nigel Williams.

The first thing Janet did was ask young people themselves what they would want and need from the new app.

She interviewed a group of apprentices at British Aerospace at Samlesbury and Westinghouse and consulted apprentices at the Barrow shipyard about what they thought it would be useful to have.

Janet also distributed questionnaires to a wider range of young workers themselves and consulted with unions like Unite (which organises young workers at Sports Direct) and BFAWU, which has recruited many McDonald’s workers.

Once the project knew what it wanted to include in the app, Janet approached Elite Sport Technologies to translate those ideas into digital form. Launched on the Apple Store and Google Play in the autumn, the app includes:

• an A-Z of advice issues from acoustic shock to work-related musculoskeletal disorders

• useful statistics on pay rates and workplace injuries

• a newsfeed with the latest stories young workers need to know

• updates about events such as this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day on Tuesday 28 April

• a chat function.

While the app is the jewel in the crown of the project, ULF funding has also enabled GMHC to produce a useful set of print resources, including booklets on mental health, mentoring and safety advice plus a pocket-sized guide to employment rights and health and safety.

The project organised a very successful dissemination event at the end of last year to showcase developments to date.

The project has also secured some additional funding from the ULF that will help them create a web-based equivalent of the app, which will be targeted at young people who work in organisations where they only have online access through laptops and desktop computers.

The key priority now for the project is getting the message out about the app so that it reaches the young workers who would find it most helpful, the project is organising another dissemination event in Liverpool.

Janet said:

We need to get the information out about the app to as many people as possible because the app will enable us to reach people we wouldn’t be able to reach in any other way to let them know this is available for them to use and get help from.”

This story first appeared in the Spring 2020 Learning Rep e-Magazine – download your copy free today.