Shovel Planted in the Ground

Risk Management and Planning Tips for Church Working Bees

Working bees can be great for getting some much-needed tasks done on a church or charityproperty, both inside and out. They also provide an opportunity for building positive connections within the community (and maybe having a little fun while you’re about it!).

A working bee however needs to involve a lot more than simply asking willing volunteers to turn up at a particular time and place and finding them things to do. Planning ahead is essential – not only for getting tasks done efficiently but also to assess and manage the risks involved and ensure the safety of volunteers.

Church and Charity organisations have a responsibility to look after their volunteers, just as they do for paid employees. Possibly more so, since volunteers may be relatively untrained and / or inexperienced at the work required of them. And unfortunately, while they are rare, serious accidents have been known to happen at working bees.

Considerations for creating a working bee plan

  1. Insurance matters

It’s crucial to make sure your insurance cover is up-to-date before starting. The cover you will need for working bees includes Personal Accident and a Public Liability policy.

  1. Define tasks

Working bee tasks typically might include:

  • Gardening – weeding, mulching, mowing, edge trimming, planting, watering.
  • Maintenance / repairs – painting, paving, gutters, clearing pathways, removing rubbish, window washing, basic repairs, equipment maintenance, moving furniture or other items.
  • Internal housekeeping – sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, office cleaning, windows, kitchen cleaning.

It’s important to define tasks ahead and determine how many people will be required for each one.

  1. Identify potential hazards / risk control

This step may not be necessary if your organisation has been regularly practising hazard identification and good risk management. If not however, a working bee might provide a good opportunity for some catch-up housekeeping.

Typical hazards to look out for:

  • Slip, trip or fall hazards – such as slippery paths or floors, loose or buckled carpets, uneven floors or pathways, broken steps, obstructions, or poor lighting.
  • Hazardous equipment – any equipment to be used should be checked to ensure it is in good working order. This includes ensuring any electrical equipment has been tested and tagged, tools and ladders are in good condition and so on.
  1. Allocate roles
  • Health and safety – someone should be designated in charge of safety in case of accidents or incidents.
  • Communications – it’s always important to have someone in charge of communications, such as to provide information on safety and assembly points, and to notify volunteers about changes to the plan or schedule.
  • Trades – any trade work that needs to be done should only be carried out by properly skilled and qualified tradespeople.
  • General tasks – make sure that volunteers are physically fit for the tasks required of them, and that they are well-matched for their roles.
  1. Ensure people safety

Working bees often involve people working outdoors. If so you will need to ask volunteers to ‘slip, slop, slap’ by wearing clothing that provides good skin covering along with hats, sunscreen and sunglasses. All volunteers should also wear shoes that cover their feet (no sandals or thongs) and bring their own supply of drinking water.

Depending on the tasks to be done, personal protective equipment may also be necessary – such as goggles, ear muffs, gloves and work boots / protective footwear. 

Also make sure that your volunteers know who to speak to if they have any concerns about safety, and how and where to report incidents.

  1. Volunteers’ responsibilities

Volunteers also carry their own level of responsibility. This includes complying with rules or bans on smoking and fires, and ensuring they do not do things that could cause accidents or harm to others – such as obstructing walkways and so on.

They should also be made aware of the importance of reporting any significant hazards they come across, and of reporting injuries – even minor ones.

If volunteers decide to bring their own tools or equipment (such as garden tools, mowers, mulchers, trimmers, shears, chainsaws etc.) it’s essential they are in good condition and are used safely. No 1950s rickety wooden ladders allowed!

  1. Working at heights

This brings in an extra level of risk that needs to be addressed, even if it just involves changing light bulbs! Falls from heights account for a significant percentage of serious and fatal injuries every year in workplaces.

Ladders in less-than-acceptable condition – e.g. those with broken rungs, worn brackets or bent stiles – should not be used. A hoist should also be used if tools or heavy items are to be carried up or down ladders.  

  1. First Aid

First Aid is important for providing immediate care or treatment until more advanced care is available, or for treatment for smaller injuries such as minor cuts.

Your First Aid kit should be well-stocked and include bandages, dressing, scissors, ice-pack, saline solution, disposable gloves, and notepad and pencil. Medications such as paracetamol are not recommended to be kept in First Aid kits.

The organisation should also keep a record of any accidents that occur on the day. This may be required for insurance purposes, and is helpful for risk program assessments and improvements.

As you can see there’s certainly a lot to think about when it comes to a working bee! However, good forward-planning is well worthwhile to help ensure that things go smoothly and safely on the day.

Article By Tess Oliver