As we move into warmer months, seasonal work is starting up again for many industries. Although seasonal workers are only employed for a short period of time, they have the right to the same protections and training as year-round employees, including the right to know about hazards in their workplace. This season, the training might look a little different given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seasonal workers are exposed to all the same hazards as permanent workers performing the same job. These hazards may include noise, working at heights, chemical exposure, working with heavy equipment, plus ergonomic injuries due to standing for long hours, awkward positions, repetition, and vibration.
Depending on the time of year and the nature of the work, seasonal workers may face additional hazards such as sunburn, dehydration, and other heat stress-related illnesses during the summer months. Without proper preparation and support for new or returning workers, they could be at risk of not receiving sufficient training or supervision, which may lead to incidents or injuries.
Ensuring a safer start for seasonal workers
Employers have a responsibility to inform all workers about the hazards of the job and perform risk assessments to control and mitigate these hazards. Workplaces should begin by reviewing and updating their health and safety protocols in advance, and make sure that workers are aware of any hazards, provided with proper tools and equipment, and trained on safe work procedures.
These steps apply to both new and returning workers. Returning seasonal workers should be refreshed on hazard recognition and control processes, including retraining on any equipment they may be required to use. Employers must include instruction on any new procedures in the workplace since their last working season, such as COVID-19 protocols.
Making work safer
Part of the preparation for seasonal workers should include reviewing past incidents and injuries. Reviewing past events can help reduce the risk of workplace incidents and injuries. As such, workplaces must be ready to investigate any incidents that do occur. The emphasis should be placed on finding the root cause of the incident to prevent re-occurrences. All incidents, from near misses to serious injuries, should be appropriately investigated. The purpose is to find facts that can lead to corrective actions, not to find fault. Workplaces should always look for fundamental causes and not simply record the steps of the event.
Health and safety committee members/representatives should be involved in the investigation process and any corrective actions should be shared with the workforce to increase transparency to provide opportunity for learnings, and ensure all workers are well equipped to do their jobs. Develop a timeline for any corrective actions, monitor that these actions have been completed, and keep workers informed throughout the process.
The impact of COVID-19
Many workplaces will be experiencing their second season in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While some returning seasonal workers will be familiar with COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, some information and guidance may have changed. Training and education should be prioritized for all seasonal workers.
If they have not already, employers should work with their health and safety committee/representative to develop or refine a COVID-19 response plan that considers seasonal workers and the transition from one season to the next. Safe return-to-work plans must be comprehensive and multi-dimensional. Workplace guidelines should include the following: encouraging workers to stay home when sick, screening workers as they enter the workplace, increasing ventilation if working in an enclosed area or office setting, maintaining physical distancing, disinfecting surfaces and equipment regularly, keeping workers in smaller cohorts, maintaining hand hygiene facilities and supplies, and providing masks or face coverings.
Education and training also play an important role. Workers need to be trained on hazards, the safe use of hazardous products, and other safety measures. Additionally, communication is critical. New and returning workers should be encouraged to ask questions and be kept informed about the ongoing pandemic and any new or modified steps to keep them safe.
Seasonal workers must be provided with the same training and health and safety protections as year-round workers.
Employers will need to incorporate safe practices to control the transmission of COVID-19 with training for all other hazards and their controls into every aspect of their business. By doing so, they will help to make sure that every worker is safe and healthy.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well being of workers in Canada by providing information, training, education, systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and injury and illness prevention.