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  • Issued: August 2015
  • Content last reviewed: August 2015

Volunteerism is a growing activity, especially for high school students who must complete 40 hours of volunteer work before graduation.

What do I have to know as a teen volunteer?

Young adults under the age of 25 are at much higher risk of injury while on the job than any other age group. Even as a volunteer, you may be exposed to the same types of hazards that have resulted in serious injuries to young workers in Ontario.

Injuries happen. They can be minor, such as cuts, bruises and strains. But far too often incidents result in broken bones, dislocations, burns, concussions or the amputation of a finger, hand, toe or arm. Some young people die from the injuries they suffer in Ontario workplaces.

Report all injuries even if

  • you are volunteering with your parent or a family friend
  • you feel that reporting will make them think less of your capabilities
  • you think it's 'nothing'
  • you're concerned about what others will think.

Break a leg and you may suffer for years to come. Break your neck or spine and you may be in a wheelchair for life. Suffering a head injury can mean your brain never works the same again. It happens. It could happen to you.

Age matters

You can't be a volunteer:

  • on a construction site or logging operation unless you're 16
  • in a factory setting or restaurant kitchen unless you're 15
  • in other industrial workplaces unless you're 14.

How can I know how to do a job if I've never done it before?

You can't and this is not the time for trial and error or learning as you go. Ask for training and a demonstration. Don't perform the task until both you and your supervisor are sure you can do it safely.

Work on asking smart questions and avoid having to give dumb answers such as "If I had only known that before I started." "I didn't know!" "No one told me".

You can be bright, willing to work, anxious to help and capable, but sometimes it's difficult to admit that you don't know what's safe.

How would I know about the hazards in a job they give me?

You can't and you're not a mind reader. The job, the rules and the stuff you're exposed to is new. But every job has hazards. Most hazards can be easily controlled, if you know what might be dangerous in the first place.

Being tired and less attentive increases your risk of injury. Select volunteer times that don't conflict with other responsibilities and times you are most likely to be alert.

You can be bright, willing to work, anxious to help and capable, but sometimes it's difficult to admit that you don't know how do things. No one should expect you to know how to do something you've never done before.

Safety tips to consider

1. Stay away from operating machinery wherever possible

Operating industrial equipment - and that includes forklifts, motorized carts, mixers in a kitchen, lawnmowers and trimmers - require training. They can tangle your hair around their gears, catch your clothing and cause severe damage to your arms or legs. They can pinch your fingers, grab your hands and amputate your fingers. Even worse things could happen.

2. Keep away from chemicals

Chemicals used in workplaces are often strong, contain ingredients not found in household products and can cause serious injuries to people who work with them without following strict procedures.

Under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) there are strict requirements for labelling, worker training and providing safety information about hazardous chemicals and other substances. It you can avoid working with them, do! If you must work with them, insist on training.

3. Back off from biological exposure

You may be exposed to human waste as well as blood and saliva if you work around people or in a laboratory. Animals also harbour bacteria (germs!) that can cause illness in humans. People, animals and things that pose a biological hazard may have to be handled, but you need to know how to do it right. Rubber gloves and heavy-duty hand washing are work procedures people exposed to these hazards are taught and learn to do every day.

4. By-pass slips and falls

Slips on floors, stairs and other surfaces seem like something that "just happens" to everyone. Slips and falls from heights or even falling just a few feet have resulted in some very serious injuries. You could hit your head, break your arm or leg, or worse. In fact, slips and falls are one of the top reasons why people are admitted to hospital emergency rooms and one of the most common ways people get injured at work.

Watch out for wet, icy or uneven floors. Only climb to reach something over your head if you have a proper ladder that's in good shape. Climbing up on shelves, standing on stools, rolling carts, boxes, etc. may seem like they're 'good enough', but they aren't. You deserve the right equipment.

5. One size does not fit all

Just because someone else can lift those boxes, doesn't mean everyone can. In a volunteer situation where sometimes there are a lot of different jobs to be done (like working on a food drive), volunteer to do a job that you think you can handle. Not everyone is physically capable of carrying heavy boxes or helping seniors in and out of chairs.