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Summer is Coming – Do You Have a Safety Plan in Place?

A safety plan does not represent the most exciting or inspiring part of a nonprofit organization’s work. However, it is as crucial as any other task a nonprofit undertakes, because a good safety plan helps ensure that the nonprofit’s actions will not harm the client population it is trying to serve, the general public, or the organization’s employees and volunteers. It also helps ensure that the nonprofit will have enough assets to carry out its mission.

Nonprofit organizations without a safety plan leave themselves vulnerable to events that could impose staggering costs or entirely shut down their operations. As unpleasant as it is, bad things, such as accidents, happen every day. No organization is immune from the possibility that its plan of action—even a well-thought-out one—could go seriously wrong.  

Many people think the organization is okay if it buys insurance. However, a serious injury can cause lasting harm to your organization, and not just financially. While insurance may pay for the out-of-pocket costs if your organization is sued or otherwise incurs a loss, it does not pay for the staff time and program momentum your organization will lose if there is an accident. It cannot compensate for the loss to your organization’s reputation. Insurance also does not heal the pain that everyone feels when someone, such as a child or volunteer, is seriously injured.

Safety First!

As the first step, an organization should take the actions necessary to ensure that its facilities and program activities are safe. Inspect your organization’s premises. If, during the inspection, you discover potential hazards, such as faulty fixtures, loose railings, or poor lighting, then arrange for the appropriate maintenance work and make certain it is performed.   Check equipment, such as playground sets, fire extinguishers, tools, and ladders, to be certain it is in good condition and functioning properly. Make sure any potentially dangerous machines or chemicals are stored safely and securely. Keep in close proximity a first aid kit and medical supplies your organization may need as part of its activities. If you know of conditions that cannot readily be repaired, fence off the area or otherwise isolate the condition and put up warning signs. Obtain parental consent forms for field trips and other outside activities, and if you are serving food, make sure you ask parents whether their children have food allergies. However, even more important than conducting the first inspection is scheduling regular inspections, such as once a quarter or twice a year, as needed. Put reminders on your calendar so you are sure to conduct the inspections regularly.

Train Workers

Your employees and volunteers are the first line of defense when developing a safety plan. It is essential to stress to them the importance of ensuring the safety and security of the organization’s clients, customers, and workers, as well as the security of its assets. However, a worker can only follow a rule or procedure that the organization has explained to the worker. If your organization requires workers to conduct activities that could affect someone’s wellbeing (e.g., preparing food, treating sick individuals, supervising contact sports, handling funds) then your organization has to be certain that workers have received proper training.   Your organization should arrange for workers to attend training courses. An employee or volunteer handbook is also a good way to provide important information to workers in a readily-accessible form. Your organization can use these techniques to design a strategy for teaching workers to identify and prevent risks as your organization becomes aware of them.

Follow Best Practices

Nonprofits that try to learn from the experience of others do a better job of avoiding situations that create potential liabilities. A nonprofit should investigate the best practices of its industry and the relevant legal requirements to set standards of behavior.  

Set the Right Tone

A good safety plan requires open and honest communication among the board, staff, and volunteers about the risks the organization faces. One way to encourage openness within the organization is for the officers and the board of directors to establish the right “tone at the top.” The “tone at the top” refers to the ethical climate created in an organization by its leadership. As a key element of any safety plan, directors and officers should foster a climate that encourages employees and volunteers to uphold the highest standards while carrying out their duties.

Make Someone Responsible

As part of your organization’s safety policies, you should clearly identify the persons within your organization to which workers must report in the event of a serious accident or emergency.  Your management, staff, and volunteers should know to call 911; to seek help from a nearby staff member who is qualified to provide first aid; and to report the event to at least one senior employee or board member designated by the organization to receive the report. Similarly, your organization should have a whistleblower policy in place, so employees and volunteers can report unsafe conditions or practices without fear of reprisal. It is important that people feel comfortable delivering “bad news” to the organization. The policy should identify whom the person should contact to make the report.