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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Volunteer guidelines

Ensuring the health and safety of volunteers is essential, says TIM BURNS, and new guidelines make the task easier.

The HSE Act stipulates that those responsible for organising and managing volunteers have, at a minimum, a duty of care for the health and safety of their volunteers. The Act also states that the legal requirements covering paid workers apply for volunteers where they work on a regular basis for an employer with paid staff. There are some specific exceptions to this.

There are special health and safety challenges for groups of volunteers who undertake short term projects together, as they often come from a completely different environment to the volunteering project.

The thousands of students who went out to help with many different tasks after the Canterbury earthquakes provide a good example, coming from the classroom to work with shovels, wheel barrows etc in a challenging and potentially dangerous environment. The tools they used and tasks they did were new to many of them.

Another growing area of volunteering which has similarities is employee or corporate volunteering. Most would have seen the TV advertisements from banks telling of the days off, where employees are given the opportunity to do voluntary work in the community.

While some chose an assignment with a favourite community organisation and do that on their own, many are going as groups to do team projects in the community.

In addition a number of organisations such as church communities offer groups of volunteers to assist non-profit organisations with their short term projects.

These groups are likely to be going into a very different “work” environment and without the type of orientation/training that longer term or permanent volunteers would expect to receive.

The type of projects they work on typically include ground clearing of noxious plants, the planting of new trees and gardens, painting community facilities, cooking meals for people in need, organising activities for children, assisting with the organisation and marshalling at sports and other events, and assisting with fund raising appeals.

The lack of familiarity the volunteers have for the tasks they do means there are special health and safety issues to be considered. Recognition of this has been the motivation for new employee volunteering health and safety guidelines which Volunteering New Zealand has recently published.

The guidelines have been designed for use by the host community organisations assisted by employee volunteers, the employees themselves and their employers, and those agencies such as volunteer centres which help organise employee volunteering projects.

They provide background information on the legal aspects of health and safety, key issues to consider when planning projects, comprehensive checklists and other reference material such as useful contacts which can be used by all the par ties involved.

TIM BURNS is the immediate past executive director of Volunteering New Zealand.

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