Student Handout

Providing Young Volunteers with a Healthy and Safe Working Environment

WE’RE A TEAM and we’re GLAD you’re here!

When young people come into an organization to volunteer, they won’t have the same connection to the work, the commitment to the organization and the full appreciation of the services you provide and the goals of your service that your staff or regular volunteers have. Take the time to talk – to explain WHAT you do, WHY you do it, and HOW it benefits the clients you serve. Understanding the goals and making a better connection to the organization will not only make the volunteer assignment more rewarding, it will also contribute to helping volunteers work safer – when they feel like part of a team they are less likely to act independently and feel isolated. Remember, this is all new to many of your young volunteers – many have not had positions of responsibility outside of their home or school, and the experience may be a little daunting. Further, the supervisor/worker relationship is new and not well understood. How you relate to the young volunteers and the experience you provide will build a foundation for their working lives.

Why are we talking about safety?

Most volunteer organizations have paid workers, so they should be familiar with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Act applies to paid workers, but not to volunteers. Regardless, employers have an overall responsibility for the safety of persons in the workplace, and volunteers, especially young ones, should be treated as if the Act applied, and as if they were your own children. Teach them well, provide a positive working environment, supervise them and you’ll be rewarded with enthusiasm, dedication, hard work, and fewer injuries.

So why are teens vulnerable to injuries at work?

Teens have growing bodies and minds. We all know they’re fun, bright, eager to learn and please and have a lot to offer anyone who works with them but, realistically, teens are at a developmental phase that means that many are prone to being impatient, clumsy, bored or impulsive, acting on “for the moment” thinking. Often they are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to look “stupid”. When you put the average teen in a situation that he or she has never experienced before, the risk of injury doubles. When that teen goes into a work situation where people don’t spend the time to provide orientation, training, supervision and a positive environment where the teen feels comfortable, the risk of injury skyrockets.

Your role in the graduation requirement to complete 40 hours of community involvement

The Ministry of Education policy on community involvement* lists several principles for volunteers and their parents to follow when selecting a suitable volunteer assignment. The top priority is to ensure that the activity is performed in a safe environment.

The policy prohibits student involvement in certain types of activities:

Ministry of Education policy also includes minimum age requirements for youth to be IN a workplace – which apply to volunteers. These requirements are actually regulations made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act**. Workplaces that knowingly bring underage youth into the workplace may be in contravention of the legislation and subject to penalties.

You must be:

How to create a rewarding and SAFE volunteer experience

1. Remember when…

Before you begin screening, interviewing, training and supervising young volunteers, you need to take some time to reflect on your early work or volunteer experiences.

If you said yes to any of these, you were a normal teen and now that you remember what it was like to start a new job, you’ll be better prepared to plan interview questions, set up orientation and training and establish a supervision and mentorship program that will work.

Remind supervisors and others in the workplace how to relate to young workers, to answer their questions and to never assume that they know how to perform tasks.

2. Set tasks

Determine appropriate tasks and carefully assign a task to the individual who suits the task. It’s not news that teens develop at different rates – no two 15 year olds will likely be at the same level of physical or emotional maturity to handle the same tasks, but it’s often something that’s not well considered when assigning jobs. Further, their lack of experience means that they may lack the judgement skills older volunteers will have to solve problems or perform a task safely. Match the task to the person.

Sometimes enough is enough!

Teens seem to have endless energy, but the truth is, they have a lot going on. Their bodies are growing, they spend long days at school, must complete homework, have family responsibilities and perhaps a part-time job. Being tired and less attentive increases the risk of injury. A balance needs to be struck to ensure their well-being comes first. You may want to help them select volunteer times that don’t conflict with other responsibilities.

Consider, with safety in mind, the nature of the tasks assigned. Complex tasks may not be suitable for volunteers who only come in occasionally, as they may not remember the sequences required and may miss a step, exposing themselves and perhaps other people to injuries. Repetitive tasks or ones that are physically demanding are usually not suitable for anyone to do for an extended period of time. To avoid boredom or loss of concentration, consider job rotation. Tasks that carry responsibilities than can impact the health and safety of others may not be appropriate for young volunteers.

3.   Teach them well

Discuss past incidents and near misses to demonstrate risks. Talk about how these situations could have been avoided and the type of corrective action you took.

Tips for Training Teens

  1. Make orientation and training match the learning abilities of your volunteers and have it delivered by a person who is skilled at working with young, inexperienced persons.
  2. Keep orientation interactive, asking volunteers to draw on their experience and encourage them to provide input, ideas and suggestions.
  3. Make orientation and training practical. Cover what you need to cover –don’t get off track.
  4. Guide them: provide rules and consequences when rules aren’t followed.
  5. Have them explain instructions back to you to verify everything is well understood – assumptions won’t help anyone.
  6. Evaluate. Did the learning take place? Are they applying the learning? Did they perform their job correctly and safely?
  7. Provide positive reinforcement when a job is performed well and safely.
  8. When tasks or circumstances change, provide new instructions, demonstrations and validation that they understand the new job.


Before a volunteer uses it, have powered equipment checked out to ensure it is in top running condition and that all safety devices are present and working properly.

4. Watch over and guide them

5. Encourage and reward


The agreement on the following page has been drafted for use in volunteer organizations to demonstrate the team approach you want to take when it comes to protecting young volunteers. There is also a place for parents to sign to ensure they’re aware of your commitment and how they can support their teen.

Fact: Far too many young people who are new to work suffer injuries that could have been prevented. We believe this does not have to happen. We will work together to keep our volunteers safe!

Safety Agreement
As the sponsoring agency we will: As a volunteer I will: As the parent/guardian of the volunteer, I will:


  • provide a safe and healthy work environment.
  • encourage our young volunteers to raise concerns, ask questions and provide suggestions and ideas on making the tasks safer.
  • respond to concerns, questions, suggestions and ideas brought to our attention.
  • make sure that volunteers are aware of and follow established safety practices at all times.
  • ensure young and new volunteers are closely supervised and get the training they need to perform their tasks safely.



  • ask questions.
  • ask for training and a demonstration of new tasks I’m assigned.
  • say no if the task is beyond my capabilities.
  • never assume I know how to do something if I’ve never done it before.
  • discuss at home the tasks I’m asked to do as part of my volunteer work.
  • immediately report any unsafe conditions or practices that I observe to the sponsor.
  • report all injuries to my sponsor, no matter how minor they may seem to me.



  • talk to my teen about the tasks he/she is assigned and what’s involved in doing those jobs – not just at the beginning, but throughout his/her time with the organization.
  • ask about the orientation, training and supervision he/she receives.
  • ensure my teen reports injuries and safety concerns to his/her sponsor at the organization.
  • encourage my teen to say no to tasks that are beyond his/her capabilities or impose undue risks to his/her safety.



Together, we can prevent work-related injuries.

For more information about workplace health and safety for teens and young adults:

Ministry of Labour

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Canada's National Workplace Health and Safety Website

WSIB Prevention Hotline: 1-800-663-6639