Adaption of volunteering programs
Volunteering Australia recommends adapting volunteering roles to minimise or remove face-to-face contact to reduce the risk of infection of COVID-19.
Adjustments to volunteering roles may include:
Postponing volunteer work that cannot be done safely within COVID-19 requirements
Moving volunteering online so volunteers can work from home
Replacing face-to-face contact with telephone contact
Ensuring volunteers keep a distance of 1.5 metres during instances of face-to-face contact
Reducing face-to-face contact to less than 15 minutes
Work Health and Safety Requirements
Volunteering Australia recommends that due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, including limited measures available to control the spread of the virus, Volunteer Involving Organisations cease volunteering roles that cannot be done safely within COVID-19 requirements. This aligns with the Australian Government’s advice to practice social distancing.
If your organisation has one or more paid employees it is legally required to adhere to your jurisdiction’s relevant work, health and safety (WHS) laws. Under WHS legislation the organisation has an obligation to protect the physical and mental health wellbeing of volunteers.
If your organisation decides to continue involving volunteers at this time, you are encouraged to seek independent legal advice about the measures you need to take to comply with WHS legislation.
If your organisation is entirely run by volunteers with no employees you are not legally obligated to adhere to work, health and safety legislation, but it is recommended you do so as a matter of best practice.
Volunteering Australia strongly recommends that Volunteer Involving Organisations seek advice from their insurer about the implications of the pandemic regarding their volunteer workforce if they choose to continue involving volunteers at this time. Please be aware this is a complex area and, as States and Territories declare ‘states of emergency’ and enact emergency legislation, advice may change.
Keeping Volunteers Safe
If your organisation decides to continue running programs and services that involve volunteers, it is imperative you take every measure possible to keep your volunteers safe in the workplace. This includes following all advice provided by the Australian Government with regards to hygiene and social distancing. Where possible, consider how face-to-face contact can be lessened or removed altogether. Where face-to-face contact is an essential requirement, ensure your volunteers strictly comply with handwashing and sanitising guidelines. Further, consider how you can assist service users to comply with guidelines to minimise the risk to your volunteers.
Business Continuity and Risk Management Considerations
Volunteering Australia is urging all Volunteer Involving Organisations to prepare further for how COVID-19 will disrupt operations including updating or creating a business continuity plan. Several resources are available to help organisations undertake this planning. Visit your State or Territory volunteering peak body for further information.
Volunteering Australia also recommends your organisation revisit the risk management plan that governs your volunteering program/s to consider any new or heightened risks posed by COVID-19. When considering the risks posed by COVID-19 to your volunteers remember that volunteer insurance does not cover volunteers for illness and you may wish to obtain independent legal and insurance advice.
Relaxing contractual obligations
Volunteering Australia is recommending that Volunteer Involving Organisations contact their funding bodies to explain how their operations are being affected and to discuss their contractual obligations during this crisis.
Volunteering Australia is urging all funding bodies to relax their contractual requirements so that if a Volunteer Involving Organisation has to close or change their business operations due to COVID-19, they are not penalised for failing to meet their contractual obligations.
Many Volunteer Involving Organisations are already having to operate with reduced volunteering capacity, and this is affecting their ability to meet contractual requirements.
The Department of Social Services has released information about COVID-19 to DSS Grant recipients including some useful frequently asked questions that you may have if you are a DSS grant recipient.
What do I need to do to safeguard my volunteers?
Volunteers are considered as ‘workers’ under Work Health and Safety (WHS) Laws and as such should be afforded the same considerations as a paid employee. Safe Work Australia has information on preparing workplaces for COVID-19.
This includes the following:
determine and implement appropriate control measures and clearly communicate them to all workers, including providing clear direction and guidance about what is expected of workers
workers should know when to stay away from the workplace
what action to take if they become unwell, and
what symptoms to be concerned about
provide workers with continued access to official government sources for current information and advice
provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment and facilities, and information and training on how and why they are required to use them
require workers to practice good hygiene and social distancing, including:
wash your hands frequently with soap and water, including before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
cover your cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues, and wash your hands
avoid contact with others (stay more than 1.5 metres from people).
require workers to stay away from the workplace if they are unwell and not fit for work, and encourage them to seek medical advice as appropriate
seek advice from health authorities immediately if there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in your workplace
limit access to the workplace by other people, unless necessary
reconsider work-related travel and implement other methods of communication
remind workers that they have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others.
provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns, and access to support services
For further information visit:
Should I be asking my volunteers to stay home?
As a volunteer involving organisation, you should be making a decision that fits your organisation and the needs and circumstances of your volunteers. For example, if your volunteer workforce includes many people in high risk categories (e.g. older people) then you may ask people to stop volunteering for the time-being.