Q: What should our ministry consider before engaging in a service project?
A: Ministry leaders should be aware of the risks presented by a service project and how to effectively manage those risks.
Managing a service projects begins by selecting an appropriate project. Projects that include hazardous activities or unreasonable risks, such as setting trusses or roofing, should be referred to professional contractors. Similarly, the skills of the ministry’s volunteers should also be considered. For example, a project involving dangerous power tools is not suitable for a youth group.
Once a suitable project is selected, appoint a coordinator to organize the project. A detailed-oriented person who understands the requirements of the project is apt to be the best choice for this role. If a qualified coordinator is not available, your ministry might partner with another organization that has experience performing the type of project you plan to undertake.
If a project includes a professional task, like plumbing or electrical work, ministry leaders should be sure that at least one of its volunteers is properly licensed and has sufficient experience and professional liability insurance to complete the task.
The project coordinator will likely want to divide the project into the series of tasks that need to be completed. By dividing the project into parts, the project coordinator can assign tasks to individuals who have the appropriate skills to complete them. The project coordinator can determine the skills of volunteers by asking them to complete a skills assessment inventory that includes a list of possible skills and indicating their proficiency for the skills listed. Before the project commences, the coordinator should hold a safety and training session to familiarize volunteers with the project overall and the safety procedures related to specific tasks.
Ministry leaders also should consider liability exposures commonly related to service projects. Major risks involve damage to the service recipient’s property and injury to volunteers or bystanders. Damaging the service recipient’s property is more likely to occur when the project includes technical tasks. If a project includes a professional task, like plumbing or electrical work, ministry leaders should be sure that at least one of its volunteers is properly licensed and has sufficient experience and professional liability insurance to complete the task.
Simple preparations, such as providing safety equipment and instruction about how available tools work, can help prevent bodily injury to the ministry’s volunteers. Highlighting dangerous working practices, such as using unsupported ladders, can also keep your ministry’s volunteers out of harm’s way.
Ministry leaders can help protect bystanders by making them aware of the service project and by securing the work area. Roping off the perimeter with caution tape helps bring the risks of the site to bystanders’ attention. Keeping the area free of tripping hazards, like extension cords, can help keep both volunteers and bystanders safe.
Even when the best safety practices are followed, injuries and damages can still occur. To help protect the ministry from being legally responsible for losses, ministry leaders should ask each of the ministry’s volunteers to sign an Activity Participation Agreement. For the same purpose, service recipients should be asked a Service Project Agreement. Both of these agreements should describe the risks involved in the service project and allow volunteers and the project recipient to acknowledge and accept those risks. A local attorney can help your ministry modify these agreements to ensure that they comply with applicable laws in your community.
*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.
The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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