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How Gordon Bay Marine keeps seasonal workers safe

Young mechanic checking motor boat

For cottagers and tourists, summer in Muskoka may bring to mind fun in the sun, but for Gordon Bay Marine on Lake Joseph, it’s their busiest season. 

One of the largest and busiest boat dealerships in Canada, Gordon Bay Marine has earned a reputation for quality service and customer care over its 60 years in the business. It takes the same care with the health and safety of its employees — 60 full-time and 40 seasonal — who work in the dealership, marina and restaurant. With university and college students making up the bulk of seasonal employees, training and mentoring are key to keeping them safe from an assortment of hazards (including bears!), says General Manager Ben Hatherley.

Tasks and hazards 

These young workers may be required to service, clean, store and deliver boats and other water vehicles via roadway or waterway, carry out yard maintenance, work with customers at the retail store, pump gas at the marina or prepare and serve food in its restaurant.

Performing these tasks safely requires a comprehensive health and safety program. Among the components: working with hazardous products, material handling, lockout/tagout, hazard reporting, first aid, accident investigation, distracted driving, emergency preparedness, drugs, alcohol and medication, violence, harassment and discrimination and more. 

After new workers receive orientation and job-specific hazard training, they are mentored on the job by a more experienced part-time or full-time worker. Here’s are some additional hazards that they learn about.

  • Drowning. “This is a real possibility when you’re on or near the water all day,” says Ben. New workers must attend a one-day course on water safety with Boating Canada, follow a buddy system and always wear a life jacket if working alone. 
  • Hazardous products. Servicing and cleaning boats can bring workers in contact with explosives, strong chemicals and acids. Cleaning boat interiors can expose workers to ergonomic hazards because of the crowded layouts. “The work can be hot and involve awkward postures and workers spend a lot of time bent over. It’s also easy to hit a body part against something.” Both of these situations and others are covered off in training.
  • Aggressive customers. “When something goes wrong, customers will often take it out on the first person they meet,” says Ben. Young workers are taught how to deal with unruly customers. 
  • Wildlife. Bears, moose, deer, raccoons and snakes have been known to wander onto the property. “We follow a steer-clear protocol, and have a list of internal and external contacts, including a wildlife management service. So far, animals have gone on their way without any fuss.”

“At the heart of the company’s efforts is a strong commitment to health and safety,” says WSPS Consultant Tanya Muller. Ben reaches out to WSPS whenever he has a question or concern. “I can just give WSPS a call and get the support I’m looking for.” Gordon Bay Marina has also been a member of WSPS’ Safety Group, and has enrolled Joint Health & Safety Committee members in Certification Training. 

The results of Gordon Bay Marine’s commitment are visible in a workforce that is safe, healthy and productive. The company has achieved 18 months and counting without a lost-time injury. “I feel pretty good about that,” says Ben.