Youth Volunteers and Maintenance Projects

Many parishes encourage youth group participants and Confirmation candidates to engage in service work in the community or parish. While service work benefits the moral and spiritual development of youth, please take the necessary precautions to prevent injury or illness.


Youth may paint interiors or exteriors of buildings, under the condition that no dry scraping or sanding is involved. Most buildings built prior to 1978 contain some lead-based paint. Buildings built prior to 1950 used paint that had a higher concentration of lead. According to the EPA, lead-based paint can cause damage to the brain, nervous system and reproductive system if the job is not done properly.

In general, lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard, and in many structures built prior to 1978, the lead-based paint is buried beneath layers of non-lead-based paint. However, the hazard arises when the lead-based paint is disturbed in the repainting process by using techniques such as dry scraping or dry sanding. This is because the process of sanding and scraping creates dust and debris that may contain unsafe levels of lead. For this reason, as of April 2010, federal law requires that contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb more than six square feet of paint in homes, childcare facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and trained to follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. In the interest of safety, youth should not be present for any type of paint removal via sanding or scraping, but they may help with simple painting projects.

Be sure youth are wearing the proper protective equipment. See more below.

Yard Work

When preparing youth to do yard work, please take the following safety precautions:

  • Educate youth about poisonous plants and teach them how to identify plants such as poison ivy or poison oak. Instruct them to immediately alert their supervisor if they find these plants on the grounds.
  • Prior to beginning yard work, ask parents/guardians to inform you if their child has any insect sting allergies. If a student requires the use of an epi-pen, be sure that his/her epi-pen is easily accessible.
  • Students should not operate a power lawn mower unless they are at least 16 years of age, provide written permission from a parent/guardian, and demonstrate that they know how to use it properly.
  • Before mowing, show youth how to check the areas for stones, sticks and other items that can be jolted into the air and cause injury.
  • Be mindful of heat exhaustion. Have students take frequent breaks in shaded areas while working in hot conditions, and be sure to provide plenty of drinking water. Staying hydrated in the hot weather is critical to avoid serious illness associated with heat.
  • Be sure to protect youth from sun damage. Encourage them to wear hats or visors and to apply sunscreen to skin that is exposed.
  • Make certain students are not exposed to any toxic pesticides or weed killers that may have been applied.
  • Wear protective equipment (see below).

Wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When using motorized equipment for yard work, or when pulling weeds, painting, or doing any repair work, it is critical that you provide youth with the proper PPE, and ensure that they wear it. This is non-negotiable. If a youth does not want to wear the PPE assigned for the task, you should not allow the youth to participate in the project.

  • Sealed safety goggles protect the eyes against flying dust, dirt and debris. Wear these especially when using a leaf blower.
  • Hearing protection such as ear muffs and ear plugs are essential to protect from exposure to noise from equipment that can cause permanent hearing damage. Leaf blowers are the biggest culprit. Always make certain youth are wearing ear protection when using a leaf blower, and check the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to lawn mowers.
  • Dust masks prevent inhalation of dust, which can cause irritation to your lungs. Use these when operating leaf blowers, engaging in a deep cleaning project, painting, or doing any type of carpentry work.
  • Quality gloves will make sure the youth’s grip on the equipment is steady and will also prevent blisters and contact with prickly or poisonous plants.
  • Close-toe footwear is essential; do not allow youth to work in sandals, open-toe shoes or barefoot when operating motorized equipment, or even when pulling weeds.

If you have any questions about any of these recommendations, please contact Joseph McEnness.

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