Getting ready for a new season: taking a safe first step

Apr 02, 2012

Getting ready for a new season: taking a safe first stepSeasonal workers are often enthusiastic, energetic and eager to learn, bringing a fresh energy into the workplace. However, many are also inexperienced, which can put them and their co-workers at risk.

These workers — students, temporary workers, migrant workers, and even family members — are at greater risk for a number of reasons, says Kristin Hoffman, a consultant with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services. Among them:

  • inexperience. Many seasonal workers have never done this type of work before. For some, it may be their first job ever. “One consequence,” says Hoffman, “is that we can never assume these workers know exactly what is expected of them.”
  • limited or no knowledge of safety principles and practices, including worker rights and responsibilities. “Employers often don’t communicate them as often or as well as they could be,” says Hoffman, “but ensuring workers know this helps build a workplace health and safety culture, helps promote greater productivity, and helps employers fulfill their own health and safety responsibilities.
  • language barriers, especially among young or new workers unfamiliar with industry, workplace or task-specific terminology.
  • reluctance to ask questions. “Young and new workers may hesitate to ask questions that could be seen as challenging authority,” says Hoffman. “Or, they may be afraid their perceived ignorance could cost them their job.”

Now’s the time to minimize or eliminate the risk through orientation training, and ongoing hazard and skills training, supervision and coaching.

Build health and safety into orientation training. Providing new workers with a health and safety orientation offers many benefits. For example, it

  • shows new employees you care for their safety and well being
  • introduces new workers to the health and safety hazards of the job, and safe work practices to protect themselves and others
  • helps to reduce the high risk potential of injuries to young employees, new and re-hired employees
  • helps to meet legal requirements
  • helps to balance the company’s need for productivity with the workers’ needs for self-esteem and security — workers become productive safely and more quickly

Provide hazard- and task-specific training. Complement the orientation training with specific, timely training that addresses hazards workers may encounter while performing specific tasks. Wherever possible, add a hands-on component so that workers can apply their new knowledge and practice new skills.

Provide ongoing reinforcement and coaching. New workers have lots to retain. Reinforce their safety training, observe them performing their duties, and coach as needed. Encourage experienced workers to mentor new hires. For additional suggestions, see “14 tips for protecting seasonal workers,” below.

How much training is enough?

The amount and type of health and safety training, orientation or otherwise, depends on

  • the worker’s previous work or job experience
  • the worker’s age (e.g., young workers with little experience will have different needs than seasoned workers)
  • previous training within the operation (e.g., returning workers)
  • the nature of the job

Results from a 2010 survey of 600 tourism business owners and human resource personnel show that the number of training hours varies widely. Conducted by the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council, the survey reports that respondents spend anywhere from 4 to 100 hours training seasonal staff, with an average of 32.6 hours. More importantly, respondents are divided over whether the training time they provide is enough to convert new hires into fully qualified employees: 42% felt the time they spent was enough; 58% didn’t.1

Paradoxically, those who felt they offered enough training time spent less time on it than those who felt they didn’t offer enough. This suggests two possible interpretations: those who spent less time training were either more effective, or had lower standards.

14 tips for protecting seasonal workers

“A safer workplace is a more efficient workplace,” says Kristin Hoffman. “The two go hand in hand.” Appearing below is a compendium of safety suggestions from Hoffman, WSPS consultant Kirsi Henry and other sources.

  • Integrate safety into your operations by including it in job descriptions, the hiring process, orientation and other training, performance reviews, and compensation.
  • Review your training program before the season begins. “Check to make sure it takes into account any changes in processes, procedures, equipment, and other new or different hazards,” says Hoffman.
  • Train workers on
  • health and safety roles and responsibilities, including reporting unsafe conditions and equipment
  • how to perform the tasks assigned to them efficiently and without compromising safety (i.e., no short cuts)
  • proper lifting and other techniques to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, the most common compensable injury in Ontario
  • safe use of equipment. Include hands-on or “seat time”
  • emergency preparedness and response, including how to use fire extinguishers and contact emergency services.
  • Accommodate different learning styles. “Especially with inexperienced workers,” says Kirsi Henry, “we can’t just hand out safe operating procedures and say, ‘Read these.’ To show them the right way to do something, incorporate videos and YouTube clips, have seasoned employees deliver some of the training, and implement a buddy system and job shadowing.”
  • Make workers aware of specific hazards in their environment, as well as protective measures and controls. “For instance,” says Henry, “Outdoor workers such as park, campground and resort staff may encounter bears, raccoons, family pets, and even customers who may unintentionally compromise worker safety, such as smoking or using cell phones while refueling vehicles or boats. If workers are often on their own, create a process for keeping in touch or raising an alert.”
  • Provide personal protective equipment where needed. You’re responsible for ensuring workers wear the right protection for the task.
  • Encourage workers to ask questions if they don’t understand what’s expected, or are unsure of proper procedures or preventive practices.
  • “Reinforce training by having supervisors, team leaders or whoever has direct responsibility for these workers introduce new tasks with brief safety talks,” says Hoffman. “Begin with an overview of your safety policy and program, and then focus on tasks, equipment and procedures the worker(s) will be using that day.”
  • Monitor job performance to ensure workers understand what they’re supposed to do and are doing it safely
  • Share techniques for boosting productivity without compromising safety.
  • Lead by example by using safe practices at all times.
  • Keep safety top of mind by talking about it regularly with workers and posting safety signage.
  • “Invite a seasonal worker to join the joint health and safety committee or serve as a health and safety representative,” says Hoffman, “especially if you have a number of seasonal workers doing similar work. This encourages workers’ trust, ensures effective communication, and promotes a safety culture. This person is also in an ideal position to identify worker safety challenges or knowledge gaps that the employer may not be aware of, and may be able to help develop training or other resources to address these challenges and gaps.”
  • Pay attention to near misses and incidents involving minor first aid. “These could be indicators that your health and safety system is breaking down,” says Henry. “Your training may not have taken hold, a procedure may not be working, or there could be other barriers preventing people from working safely.”

One employer’s experience: Casino Rama

Seasonal workers are integral to the operations of Casino Rama. On an annual basis, the facility supplements its full-time staff with 200 to 300 seasonal or short-term contract employees.

“Adding to our challenge,” says Derek Suzack, the casino’s health and safety manager and a member of WSPS’ Tourism and Hospitality Advisory Committee,” is that the casino is really three different businesses operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all under one roof.”

Among the facility’s offerings: 2,500 slot machines, 100+ table games, 9 unique restaurants, a 5,000-seat entertainment centre, and a 300-room full-service hotel, including a spa and health club facilities.

“Health and safety training is part of our culture,” says Suzack. “We promote our program on two cornerstones. One is corporate responsibility, or ‘your responsibility’. We expect you, as an employee — and this could be a vice-president or a front-line employee — to undertake safe precautionary work every day because we want you to be as safe in your work life as you are in your personal life, and we give you the training and tools to do that.

“The other is compliance. We present the world of health and safety to our employees as, ‘It’s the law’. We’re all affected by it, managers, supervisors and employees. Working safely is not just a good thing to do, it’s a matter of personal and organizational liability.”

Consequently, Casino Rama’s health and safety training, beginning with orientation, is comprehensive and thorough. “We undertake all the corporate requirements for Casino Rama’s health and safety program and expectations. We cover the internal responsibility system, employee rights, legal requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, WHMIS, hazard reporting, injury reporting, standard safe work procedures, emergency evacuation, environmental reporting…

“For technical work units, we cover specific hazards briefly during on-boarding, but each department is responsible for cascading that knowledge transfer. They explain the risks associated with their department through departmental indoctrination, such as how to handle, use or store a chemical, using elevated work platforms safely, use of forklift and pallet trucks, primary and secondary means of access or egress, how to safely lift or handle materials manually, and any other specific departmental measures that the employee has to undertake to work in a safe manner. Here’s an example: if a ticket usher’s job requirements are to greet guests and seat them, what are the risks associated in doing that? In this context, it’s a low risk task. But what if a patron is very angry and becomes violent? How do our ushers respond? So, the manager would train ticket ushers on how to manage this risk safely.”

Health and safety training is just one way in which Casino Rama regularly engages employees in its health and safety culture. “On an ongoing basis,” says Suzack, “we publish safety messages and updates in our weekly newspaper, on LCD-screen message boards, and in departmental corridors, showing the department’s health and safety performance month over month. It doesn’t matter where you turn, there’s always health and safety messaging posted somewhere.”

Each department also conducts annual general meetings with employees, in which health and safety is a fundamental component of updates on corporate goals, operational objectives, achievement and success, recognition, and upcoming changes.

“We want everyone to understand that health and safety is essential to our organizational success,” continues Suzack, “but on a more basic level, we just want people to be safe. It’s that simple.”

How WSPS can help

View available resources on the Health & Safety Ontario website

1 Seasonal Staffing at Canadian Tourism Businesses, Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council, 2010, http://cthrc.ca/en/research_publications/~/media/Files/CTHRC/Home/research_publications/workplace_matters/PanelReport_SeasonalStaffing_CurrentEN.ashx