The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is making an effort to get out in front of the employment curve when it comes to enhancing an individual’s awareness of workplace safety.

With approximately 1.6 million U.S. teens aged 15-17 employed – and nearly 59,000 of them ending up in the emergency room each year due to job-related injuries, NIOSH is teaching workplace safety and health to 8th grade students through a collaboration with West Virginia University (WVU) and the Monongalia County School System.

The Youth@Work: Talking Safetypartnership is an educational program directed at teaching foundational workplace safety and health knowledge and skills to young workers before they enter the workforce. NIOSH calls Youth@Work: Talking Safety “a fun, free and engaging curriculum” that helps educate young people about the basics of job safety and health.

"We know that younger workers are likely to be inexperienced, and they often enter the labor force unprepared for hazards they may face," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "Schools are an effective place for delivering skills related to workplace safety and health, so we’re excited to join WVU and the Monongalia County School System in bringing the critical knowledge and skills young people in West Virginia need to stay safe and healthy on the job."

The "Talking Safety" curriculum is designed to raise awareness among youth about workplace safety and health, and teach topics such as how to:

  • identify hazards at work
  • prevent injury and illness
  • identify emergencies at work and deciding on the best ways to address them
  • communicate with other workers—including people in authority—when they feel unsafe or threatened

"The mission of the WVU School of Medicine is to improve the health and safety of West Virginians, so we were pleased to join NIOSH in an outreach program to introduce the Talking Safety curriculum to our teachers, and ultimately their students in Monongalia County," said Linda Vona-Davis, Ph.D., director of the Biomedical Masters of Health Science at West Virginia University School of Medicine. "Our goal is to reach other counties in the state."

The Talking Safety curriculum will be introduced in five middle schools across Monongalia County. The curriculum consists of six main (and five supplementary) lessons is customized for each U.S. state and territory—including West Virginia—to address their respective child labor rules and regulations. The program also contains a free, companion video.

As part of a 4-year, NIOSH-led research and evaluation project, Talking Safety has already been introduced to more than 6,000 8th graders in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools the fourth largest school district in the country. Preliminary results from that evaluation indicate significant shifts (pre- to post-test) in eighth graders’ knowledge and attitudes about workplace safety and health. NIOSH is also collaborating with the Oklahoma City Public Schools and Connecticut Technical High School System to integrate Talking Safety into their curricula.

For more information about the NIOSH Youth@Work: Talking Safety curriculum and to download the West Virginia-specific edition.