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As pillars of compassion and change, non-profits heavily rely on the dedication of volunteers. However, the responsibility to ensure a safe environment for volunteers and the organization must not be underestimated. Proactively handling risks ensures that the heart of the non-profit sector continues to beat with resilience and integrity.

In this blog, Volunteers Insurance Service Association, Inc. (VIS) suggests that to know where you need to be in managing your organization’s risk of volunteer engagement, you must first determine where you are now.

Here’s a guide to help you assess your current awareness and action.

  1. Have you analyzed tasks volunteers perform from the standpoint of safety for volunteers and others around them? ___ Yes ___ No
    If so, how? ______________________________
  2. Have you analyzed those tasks from the standpoint of skills required of volunteers? ___ Yes ___ No
  3. Do you interview potential and current volunteers to learn what skills they do or do not have, and assign work accordingly? ___ Yes ___ No
  4. Do any volunteers drive either their own vehicles or vehicles belonging to the organization during their assignments? ___ Yes ___ No
    If so, do they transport other volunteers, staff, or clients? ____ Yes ___ No
  5. Have you inspected the locations where volunteers are assigned for potential hazards such as:
    • Slip and fall hazards ___ Yes ___ No
    • Potential fire hazards ___ Yes ___ No
    • Poor security ___ Yes ___ No
    • Poor lighting ___ Yes ___ No
  6. Do you use, or have you identified the need for, any special equipment or tools required for volunteers to work safely? ___ Yes ___ No
    Do you provide these? ___ Yes ___ No
    Do you train volunteers in the safe ways to use these? ___ Yes ___ No
  7. Do you interview volunteers about any medical conditions they have, such as allergies, that might pose a risk for certain tasks? ___ Yes ___ No
  8. Do you have a training program for volunteers, to ensure that they can perform tasks skillfully and safely, and know how to report any problems they encounter? ___ Yes ___ No
  9. Are supervisors accountable for making sure volunteers perform as they have been trained? ___ Yes ___ No
  10. For volunteers who interact with children, elders or others who might be vulnerable, do you conduct criminal background checks? ___ Yes ___ No
  11. Do you have a specific action plan in the event a volunteer is injured, injures someone, or damages someone’s property? ___ Yes ___ No
  12. Do you have a process to investigate complaints against volunteers and take appropriate action? ___ Yes ___ No
  13. Do you provide insurance protection for your volunteers? ___ Yes ___ No
    If so, what kind? ______________________________

Checklist to minimize the most common volunteer risks

  • Ensure each volunteer is given a thorough orientation to his or her role, the environment in which he or she will be working, all risks involved, and any procedures or protocol to minimize the risk.
  • Clear walkways, building entrances, steps, etc. of anything that might cause a volunteer to slip or trip. (Falls are the most common injury to volunteers.)
  • When volunteers are assigned to another location, make sure those areas also have been freed of fall hazards.
  • Caution volunteers that they might need to use more care walking than they do when they are in their own homes.

If volunteers are asked to lift or carry:

  • Is the material light enough and compact enough to lift safely?
  • Have volunteers been trained in safe lifting techniques?
  • Can you reduce the risk of injury by rearranging items to be lifted, assigning more (or stronger) volunteers to the task, or obtaining hand trucks, a dolly or other materials-handling equipment?
  • Identify what equipment or tools volunteers use.
  • Have they been trained to use these?
  • Have they demonstrated that they can use these safely?
  • If there is a risk of cuts or scratches in the volunteer’s work, require long sleeves and gloves.
  • Consider any allergies or special medical needs the volunteer might have, before assigning tasks.
  • Have – and enforce – a formal policy for screening and supervising volunteers. Require volunteers to follow your rules and hold them accountable.
  • Make sure volunteers know – and follow – the chain of command for reporting problems.
  • For volunteers who are caregivers, train them in the communication aspects of their duty, so they can understand the wants, needs and fears of the client.
  • Obtain motor vehicle records and copies of drivers’ licenses for all volunteers who will drive their vehicles or your organization’s vehicles on their assignments.
  • Devote time to vehicle safety, with resources such as the VIS “Preventer Papers.”
  • Monitor the driving of elderly volunteers. Be ready to reassign duties if necessary.

📄 Download the Risk Awareness guide.

In conclusion, the careful assessment of volunteer risks is not just a safety net; it's the essence of responsible stewardship within your organization. By proactively identifying and addressing potential risks, organizations not only protect the well-being of their volunteers but also fortify the foundation on which their altruistic missions stand. This commitment to risk management ensures that the heart of every non-profit continues to beat steadily, fostering a culture of trust, reliability, and enduring positive impact.

In the comments below, please share your experience of participating in such a risk assessment for your volunteer program before and how it served your volunteers, program, or organization.

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