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Keeping summer students safe at work

Written by: Lisa Hallsworth

Published on: 9 April 2024

Summer student safety (lifeguard)

Preventing health risks is priority #1

Are you hiring students for summer jobs at your workplace? Along with the flurry of interviews, offers, paperwork and onboarding procedures, every employer must pay attention to ensuring that these student workers are able to perform their duties without compromising their health and safety.

The stats on workplace injuries to young people are sobering: in Canada each day, “more than 40 workers under the age of 19 are injured on the job. Statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) show that new workers have a higher rate of injury, especially during the first six months of employment,” according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

It’s all too easy for health and safety best practices to slip due to the often transitory nature of summer employment positions, which often involve casual assignment of one-off tasks. 

Keeping student employees safe goes beyond helping them avoid falls and other physical injuries. They also need the training, guidance and supervision to work safely with hazardous materials, including chemical products that are commonly used at water parks, garden centers, marinas, campsites, food service, municipal operations and other jobs sites. 

Chemical safety requires utmost vigilance

Employers are required to provide all workers with access to up-to-date safety data sheets 24/7 and education and training on the safe use of products.

Young people may be at greater risk on the job site because they are inexperienced, they tend to be eager to please and they are more likely to take risks

They can be distracted by their phones or other issues happening in their lives. 

They may be less likely to think about long term consequences. 

Without specific training, if they are working in groups, they may make different decisions than if they were on their own.

And students may be more likely to "wing it" especially in response to an unusual incident, such as a gasoline spill at a marina.

Chemical exposures can have long-term effects

It’s important for all students to understand that chemicals are complex and can have long-term effects. In addition to understanding WHMIS symbols and precautions listed on safety data sheets, students should be aware that:

  • Risks associated with chemicals can be invisible — even a corrosive liquid doesn't appear harmful until it touches your skin! 
  • Using more of a product is not necessarily better. 
  • Mixing chemicals can be deadly.

Commonplace activities that deserve extra scrutiny of chemical handling practices include:

Swimming pools and water parks

Many cities hire large numbers of students to supervise swimming or wading pools and water parks that require lots of chemicals. 

Students must be provided with the SDSs for all hazardous products they are required to use, with detailed instruction and training for safe handling, including access to the correct personal protective equipment. Learn more from CCOHS about handling swimming pool products safely.

Spray paint and graffiti remover

Municipalities also routinely ask student workers to perform maintenance activities such as spray painting garbage cans, benches, etc. 

We’ve seen this activity take place indoors, with very little personal protective equipment (PPE) and an unknown degree of ventilation. There may be little harm in engaging in this activity for a short time; however, indoor exposure for a full day may be a different story, depending on the ventilation. 

Cleaning agents

A variety of cleaning chemicals are used in restaurants, marinas, park washrooms and elsewhere. Mixing them can be deadly as seen in the tragedy at Buffalo Wild Wings in 2019 when one employee died and 10 others were sickened due to an accidental mix of cleaning agents.  

Keeping students safe is a team activity!

Supervisors play an important role in keeping student workers safe. As a supervisor, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do YOU understand the hazards of the chemicals you may be asking student workers to handle?
  • Has the student reviewed the safety data sheet to ensure they are aware of the hazards and safety handling practices?
  • Would the training for the assigned work satisfy you for your own children, relatives or colleagues?
  • Have you verified the knowledge of the student, rather than simply accepting certificates or the word of the student?
  • Are you confident that the proper safe-handling protocols are in place, and that the student has access to the necessary equipment and knows how to use it?

5 safety rules for students working summer jobs

  1. Don't use chemical products without training. Even the ones you use at home can be hazardous to your health when used in larger quantities in the workplace. As the adage goes: "The dose makes the poison." Your exposure at work can be quite different from your exposure at home, which means the "dose" may be a lot higher.
  2. Chemical exposure can have adverse and long-term effects on your ability to live a normal, healthy life and conceive children.
  3. It’s a big red flag if the safety data sheet (SDS) is not available for products that you are required to use. You must ask for more information. The employer does not likely know about the hazards of the chemicals either, leaving you very vulnerable.
  4. You have the right to refuse work that you do not feel properly trained for. Learn more about your rights as an employee.
  5. In requesting more information and training, you are helping your colleagues who may be required to do the work too.

Questions about chemical safety for summer students safety at your workplace? Get in touch today!

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SDS RiskAssist an Ontario-based company that uses the power of technology to give employers control and understanding over the otherwise pervasive and worrisome use of chemicals. SDS RiskAssist enables workers to know why chemicals are being used, what their benefits and hazards are and how to use them safely! Workers can access this knowledge via mobile or desktop SafetySnaps™, from anywhere in the world. SDS RiskAssist is the winner for 5 years running, of Readers’ Choice Awards by Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine (2018-2022); the 2019 Innovation Guelph Startup of the Year Award; the 2019 Quinte Business Achievement Award (Trailblazer category) and The Ottawa Network’s 2020 Bootstrap Award (SaaS category). We support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, working with our clients to take action for a sustainable planet.