I have a job replacing light bulbs at my school that involves working with three other students. They have each been working the position significantly longer than I have (I am two weeks in) and have been training me thus far.

The position involves a good amount of ladder work and the individual attitudes of each of my coworkers are such that they would rather work the with the ladder nearest at hand than the ladder fit for the task at hand. During the past week, this took the form of an individual standing on the top cap of a six foot ladder with fluorescent light bulbs in each hand. It seems like a generally excepted principle that working unsafely is not justified by a resultant increase in productivity, but my co-workers are not even trying to achieve this; they usually rush through their ladder work in order to loaf around on campus while on the clock at the end of the day.

Needless to say, I do not feel comfortable in the position. I have mentioned some of the particularly unsafe ladder practices to my supervisor, who said that he would reintroduce ladder safety training to me and my coworkers next week. I do not see this changing the attitude shared by my coworkers, that it is better to work unsafely for one hour than safely for two. I feel I would succeed at the position if I was surrounded by coworkers that were more interested in working it properly, but at this point am unsure of how to proceed.

Some more details: I am a student at a public university in the united states. I do not believe I have signed a formal contract, but here is a link to our school's student worker policies.


4 Answers 4


I know that health and safety rules vary to some degree around the world, but as far as I can tell, you've taken the correct course: you've observed unsafe working conditions and reported it to your supervisor.

Your supervisor has now, correctly, scheduled some safety training in reaction to your report (obviously, it would have been preferable, and possibly mandatory in some jurisdictions, for the training to have taken place when individuals were hired - but sometimes the rules allow for a small lag if training is something that happens regularly, and hiring is erratic).

If your co-workers continue to flout the rules - report the unsafe behaviour. It puts them and others at risk of serious harm or injury, and also puts your employer at risk of legal action.

Ideally, your employer should have a dedicated Health and Safety Officer. An employer as large as a college or university should definitely have one - but talk to your supervisor again before going direct to the HSO.


As has been said, don't engage in unsafe work habits and report further missteps of the others. Keep in mind, the more often you report, the more they'll probably resent you and might oust you, so be prepared to not have any friends there.

It is however vital for your own personal health and that of others that you keep working conditions as safe as you can.

Pay close attention to what was said at the training and follow those instructions to the letter, even if the others ridicule you for it.

Use such banter to point out what has been said during training or in safety literature, you might even sway their opinion on some of the more dangerous things they keep doing.

Don't hesitate to grab the correct ladder, even if it means that you'll be needing more time to finish your tasks.

When reporting further potential unsafe behavior of your colleagues make sure to mention that you're observing what was said during the training and that this may occasionally lead to you needing slightly longer than them for the reason of safety (if that is the case).

During performance evaluation this will be to your benefit, explaining discrepancies between your and their times.

Do plan ahead though and try to have the required ladder at hand before going to where you need to change lightbulbs.

If in doubt make a list of the heights of the different areas you'll be servicing and do your rounds with the correct ladder accordingly. Then switch to another ladder and do a round for those places you can reach best with that one etc.

If possible and sensible keep ladders of certain sizes in utility rooms close to the areas that require them.

grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.   - Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

It sounds like you've done all you can and should do about the issue.

I wouldn't put hope in entrenched college-aged males working a part time job taking it more seriously as a result of training. CYA, don't do anything you feel is unsafe to fit in, and try not to worry so much about it. If they continue to be a ticking time bomb, you'll have to decide if you can live with them or if you should look for a new student worker position.


Does your organization have a specific health & safety officer? If you have already reported the problem to to your supervisor and got nowhere, you could try escalating it to them.

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