Summertime often brings a need to fill in labor gaps by hiring seasonal workers for municipal jobs, such as at summer camps, swimming pools, and with schools and public works departments. These hires, often high school and college students, create safety and liability concerns for municipalities – risks that shouldn’t be taken lightly just because the extra staff will be hired for a short term.
Outdoor summer work increases the potential for common seasonal ailments such as heat stroke, dehydration, severe sunburn, poison ivy, and even lightning strike. Lyme disease, contracted by bite from an infected tick, is another serious risk for those working outdoor summer jobs – particularly in Massachusetts, which had the third-highest Lyme disease infection rate in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The summer months also bring additional liability exposures. With pools and municipal beaches open for the season, water safety is a crucial issue. In public works departments and schools, seasonal maintenance employees may be working around motorized vehicles and mechanical equipment (e.g., chainsaws and heavy-duty lawnmowers) with which they are unfamiliar. Unfortunately, MIIA has seen serious work-related claims related to personal injury from inexperienced users and improperly maintained equipment.
Summertime activities increase both workers’ compensation and liability exposures with the addition of temporary staff. Moreover, monetary payouts do not necessarily end when the working student goes back to school or when an adult worker’s tenure ends. With a catastrophic injury, medical expenses could reach tens of thousands of dollars, and the liability can remain with the municipality years after the employee is off the payroll.
Risk mitigation checklist
The three most important things that a municipality can do to mitigate risks associated with hiring seasonal workers are: pre-screen, train and supervise.
• Pre-screen any employee working with children (for example, lifeguards and camp counselors). This should include thorough background checks through the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information system and the national sex offender registry, as well as former employer reference checks. Driving records should be thoroughly checked for any employee operating a vehicle. For all employees, ensure that proper and relevant certifications are in place and valid – such as auto and equipment operator’s licenses, lifeguard certifications, first aid, and CPR. Pre-employment physicals may also be necessary for certain jobs.
• Take the time to properly and thoroughly train all seasonal employees. Make sure they know how to competently and safely use equipment and appropriate personal protective equipment. Include temporary employees in any tailgate safety talks that are being offered to full-time workers. Make sure seasonal workers know what to do in case of emergencies, such as when an injury or property damage occurs, or when inclement weather or an electrical storm hits. Review safety manuals and instructions with all seasonal workers, including listing what equipment they are and aren’t authorized to use. And be sure to have them verify, with a signature, that they have received and reviewed the information.
• Do not leave seasonal workers unsupervised, under any circumstances. Significant and catastrophic injuries could occur when summer workers are left alone operating town vehicles, or serving as a lifeguard at a municipal pool or beach. A full-time, adult employee should be present and supervising part-time summer workers at all times. This can help prevent horseplay and serious injuries.
Municipalities should also examine what can be done on a more detailed level and work to address any potential risks. For example, they should fully assess child labor laws, including what hours those under 18 can work, what equipment they can and cannot use, and what tasks they can and cannot perform legally at each age. The state has specific regulations regarding minors and various mechanical equipment, hazardous materials and working conditions. For example, employees under 18 years of age may not operate vehicles or forklifts, use buffing or polishing equipment, or work in wrecking, demolition, excavation or roofing.
Carefully examine safety issues in specific areas where employees will be working. For example, perform checks on playground equipment, and be diligent about pool and beach safety. Remind employees about summer storm and lightning safety, and work with them to identify heat stress and dehydration quickly when it occurs. Ensure that all employees know to report hazardous conditions promptly.
Finally, provide sunscreen for outdoor workers and be prepared for insect bites, poison ivy, sunburn and ticks.
For more information
• Massachusetts attorney general’s Fair Labor Division: (617) 727-3465 or
• U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division: (617) 624-6700 or www.dol.gov/whd
• Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA): www.osha.gov; Boston office: (617) 565-9860; Braintree office, (617) 565-6924; Springfield office, (413) 785-0123
• Occupational Health Surveillance Program: www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/admin/dmoa/ohsp
Robert Marinelli is MIIA’s risk control manager, and Niko Pappas is MIIA’s director of workers’ compensation claims.