Safeguarding volunteers’ health and safety

There is some concern in the not-for-profit sector regarding how the nationally harmonised health and safety legislation affects volunteers. Certainly, volunteers are included under the legislation, but only in organisations that have paid workers as well as volunteers; those organisations are obliged to ensure their volunteers are as safe as their paid employees.

People are considered to be volunteers even if they are receiving reimbursement for out of pocket expenses, provided they’re receiving no other payment or financial reward. But volunteers don’t come under the Act when they are engaged in activities of a purely social, domestic or recreational nature, such as working at a church or community fete or looking after a sick relative at home.

Safe Work Australia advises that the process for safeguarding volunteers is the same as managing health and safety risks for employees:

  1. Identify the hazards.
  2. Assess the risks: How could the hazards cause harm? What is the nature of the harm? How serious could the harm be? What is the likelihood of it happening.
  3. Control the risks in the most reasonably practical and effective way possible.
  4. Monitor and review the control measures to ensure they work as planned.

Volunteers also have similar responsibilities to employees. They must:

  • take care of their own health and safety
  • ensure their conduct does not adversely affect the health and safety of others
  • comply with reasonable instructions intended to protect their health and safety
  • cooperate with the organisation’s health and safety policies and procedures.

You can find more information from Safe Work Australia.

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Healthy leaders lead better

Do you need to make an important decision? Get a good night’s rest. Do some aerobic exercise and eat a ‘good square meal’, as my mother would say.

Your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for solving problems and making decisions (as well as other executive functions like abstract thinking, managing your emotions, planning, and regulating your behaviour) needs to be exercised, fed, rested and watered to work properly.

Located just behind your forehead, your prefrontal cortex also helps you learn, adjust and react to changing situations, and concentrate on your goals. So don’t make any important plans or decisions or hold any difficult conversations when you’re feeling hungry, thirsty, tired or stressed.

As a leader, you need to make calm and well-reasoned decisions and control your emotions and to do that, you need to take care of yourself with proper rest, aerobic exercise and nutrition.

Discussion questions

When are you at your freshest? That’s probably when you’ll be most creative, able to deal effectively with challenging situations and make sound decisions.

How managers communicate

In an interview with the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales, Peter Ryan, the regional learning and development manager for the John Holland Group, Australia’s largest contracting organisation in heavy industry, offers some good advice. Whether you’re making a formal presentation or having a quick chat in the corridor, the challenge, he says, is for managers to get their message across and to be inspirational and informative at the same time.

‘When I entered into management, I found I needed to be able to consciously structure communication in a way that met my goals of team motivation and engagement. I also found that, as a manager, I had to be a “filter”, because I didn’t want to damage team morale or team engagement. Harsh business realities and “raw feedback” is seldom what people need to motivate them’, Ryan says.

Ryan also discovered that he was used to relating to his managers in a formal way but to peers in an informal way. ‘When you become a manager, almost all communications are formal and business-related, and should have a business objective attached to them. The whole ball game changes.’

Discussion questions

How carefully do you filter your communications so that your messages — even the tough ones — also motivate and engage, as well as inform, your team members? How carefully do you craft your communications to achieve your objectives? How might spending a few extra minutes thinking about and planning your upward, downward and lateral communications help you achieve your objectives, build better working relationships, improve your image and engage your team members?