I remember quite clearly a number of investigations I performed during my years at the Ministry of Labour (MOL). The incidents that bothered me the most were those involving young workers. One young girl – a summer student, was injured when the metal plate she lifted to add chemicals to the wading pool fell onto her hand and crushed it.
Another investigation involved a young man who lost an eye and suffered a shattered face while assisting his supervisor to perform a task. The supervisor, a contractor, picked up an angle grinder with a speed of 12,000 RPM and began to smooth the rough edge on a piece of granite. The grinding wheel had a maximum speed of 7,700 RPM and hence exploded sending chunks of shrapnel into the space where the young worker was standing.
Neither worker had received training. Neither worker could have known of the danger of the work they were asked to perform.
The young female pool attendant was not advised of the danger of lifting by hand the heavy metal plate, nor was there a piece of equipment to prevent the plate from slamming shut. In the second case, the employer had not bothered to read the safe operating instructions of the angle grinder and ensuring the contractor knew how to use the angle grinder before using it. As well, the guard was still in the box along with the SOP.
The MOL frequently has ‘blitzes’ where Inspectors are sent out into the field to perform new and young workers inspections. Unfortunately, with the small number of Inspectors compared to the thousands of workplaces in Ontario, not all workplaces can be inspected proactively. It’s usually only after an event that the Inspector shows up.
Lack of training is a recurrent underlying cause of accidents that Inspectors investigate. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act training means providing information, instruction as well as supervision to a worker. Most summer students are provided with little if any safety information or supervision. They may be told how to serve a burger, how to work the cash, how to greet customers, where to place the boxes, how fast to work, or how much chlorine to add to the swimming pool. It’s just not good enough.
When working with a slicer in a deli, the worker needs to ensure there is a guard, and that they have been provided with training on the safe way to use it. Lock out is imperative if they are asked to clean it.
All workers must receive Workplace Hazardous Materials Information (WHMIS) training if they work or near chemicals. And if truth be known, most WHMIS training is inadequate. It’s all well and good to be able to read labels, but how about training in the chemicals workers are actually using? Are they poisons? Are they toxins? Are they Explosives? What safety measures are in place? Is there adequate ventilation in the workplace? What protective equipment or respirator should they wear if any?
More than one worker has been critically or fatally injured when asked to pull something out of a compactor that is blocked. No worker should ever operate or attempt to clean a compactor or baler without training and without a lock out procedure in effect.
In retail as well as in health care, a major cause of accidents are slip, trip and fall hazards. The front area of many large shiny pharmacies or grocery stores that customers see is clean and neat. But, in the back room, out of sight of the paying customers it’s often a nightmare. Sheets of paper or plastic are strewn on floors. Boxes block aisles, workers are often forced to climb over discarded objects or products due to lack of space. Grease and water on restaurant floors lead to hundreds of slip and fall incidents.
Ask if the worker will be asked to place or remove objects: climbing and carrying objects on ladders is a no no. No worker should climb a ladder while removing or placing objects. Both hands are needed to carry most objects. Workers should always remember to use “two hands, one foot, or Two feet, one hand”. Ladders are for gaining access to height, platform ladders are used for work.
Before starting work, all employers should inform new hires of safety policies and procedures. as well, all workers in Ontario must receive mandatory health and safety training .
If you are a parent of a teen who has a summer job, ask what the job entails. Even though employers are responsible under the ACT, you might want to assume that they won’t tell your child how to stay safe. When your child comes home all excited that they landed their summer job – ask – “what tasks will you perform and what safety training will you receive before you start your job?”
Make sure your summer student is safe and goes home at the end of the day to enjoy the lovely weather with friends and family.