Safe • Skilled • Ready Workforce Program

SSRW - Safe • Skilled • Ready Workforce Program logo

Program Description

Young workers (ages 15–24 years) and contingent workers, defined as those with a job they do not expect to last, are at high risk for workplace injury.1,2 These workers are employed across various industries with concentrations in services, wholesale and retail trade, healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. Among young workers, those under the age of 18 are an especially vulnerable group.3 A key, common contributor to the high burden of injuries and illnesses among young and contingent workers is a lack of essential occupational safety and health (OSH) knowledge and skills due to the absence of or insufficient OSH training.4,5 Employers are responsible for providing job-specific training, but schools, workforce development organizations, and temporary staffing companies have an important role in preparing workers with career readiness knowledge and skills, including OSH competencies, before they enter the labor force.

In 2013, NIOSH launched the Safe • Skilled • Ready Workforce Program to build on two decades of young worker research at NIOSH and advance science for the design, implementation, and evaluation of OSH programs that prepare vulnerable workers for safe and healthy employment. To address the disproportionate injury burden on workers beginning new jobs, the Program seeks to equip young, contingent, and other high-risk workers with essential OSH competencies, the NIOSH 8 Core Competencies, needed to benefit from and contribute to safe, healthy, and productive workplaces.

SSRW Program Vision:  All people will be equipped with and value critical life skills and knowledge for safe and health work.

SSRW Program Mission: Every person, before they join the U.S. workforce for the first time or start a new job, will have the foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to stay safe and healthy at work and to contribute to a safe, healthy, and productive workplace.

The competencies are designed to be general; portable to all jobs and industries; compatible with existing work readiness, apprenticeship, and workforce development initiatives; and transferable to other settings where risk-based decisions are made.6 The 8 Core Competencies are:

  1. Recognize that, while work has benefits, all workers can be injured, become sick, or even be killed on the job. Workers need to know how workplace risks can affect their lives and their families.
  2. Recognize that work-related injuries and illnesses are predictable and can be prevented.
  3. Identify hazards at work, evaluate the risks, and predict how workers can be injured or made sick.
  4. Recognize how to prevent injury and illness. Describe the best ways to address workplace hazards and apply these concepts to specific workplace problems.
  5. Identify emergencies at work and decide on the best ways to address them.
  6. Recognize employer and worker rights and responsibilities that play a role in safe and healthy work.
  7. Find resources that help keep workers safe and healthy on the job.
  8. Demonstrate how workers can communicate with others—including people in authority roles—to ask questions or report problems or concerns when they feel unsafe or threatened.

The NIOSH Competencies may be delivered to young workers and other high-risk groups through a free, fun, and interactive curriculum, Youth@Work—Talking Safety, geared towards middle- and high-school students. Talking Safety has customized versions for all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico as well as Spanish-language versions. Safety Matters, a one-hour introduction to OSH and the Core Competencies, is designed for young workers as well. Staying Safe at Work is a curriculum designed for the unique needs of workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Formative research is under way to design curricula to promote foundational OSH knowledge and skills among contingent workers through the workforce development sector and the staffing industry.

1 CDC [2010]. Occupational injuries and deaths among younger workers: United States, 1998-2007. MMWR 59(15):449-455,
2 Katz LF, Krueger AB [2016]. The rise and nature of alternative work arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015. iconexternal icon.
3 Rauscher KJ, Myers DJ, Miller ME [2016]. Work-related deaths among youth: Understanding the contributions of US child labor violations. Am J Ind Med 59(11):959-968.
4 Zierold KM, Anderson HA [2006]. Severe injury and the need for improved safety training among working teens. Am J Health Behav 30(5):525-532.
5 Cummings KJ, Kreiss K [2008]. Contingent workers and contingent health: Risks of a modern economy. JAMA 299(4):448–50.
6 Okun AH, Guerin RJ, Schulte PA [2016]. Foundational workplace safety and health competencies for the emerging workforce. J Safety Res 59:43–51. icon.

Page last reviewed: January 18, 2019