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Volunteer Heath and Safety is just as critical as a Regular Workers Safety

As countless HUNDREDS of Volunteers help out during Disaster and Emergency events like the one in Ft McMurray Alberta, A BIG THANK YOU IS NEEDED FOR YOUR TIME ,ENERGY AND SWEAT, AND OUR THANK’S SEEM NEVER ENOUGH.

Volunteers are at the heart of communities and are often the first to respond in times of emergency and disaster. Their safety must be our priority, it is important for these organizations to promote the health and safety of their work teams. The purpose of this document is to provide voluntary and community-based organizations with a checklist outlining some of the hazards frequently encountered during disaster response and recovery operations. Since this checklist cannot include every possible hazard, each organization should utilize the checklist as a guideline and incorporate the specific hazards of their work sites, as well as the hazards that may be due to climate conditions and the environment. All work activities should be conducted under the direction of a competent person trained in workplace safety and health who can recognize hazards, act to minimize or eliminate them, and provide instruction to the work teams.

When disaster – natural or man-made – strikes a community, specific emergency management and nonprofit organizations automatically respond according to a pre-established plan. Each of these designated organizations has a specific role to play in ensuring an effective response to and recovery from the disaster’s devastation. Yet one element within the present system continues to pose a challenge: spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers. Spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers – our neighbors and ordinary citizens – often arrive on-site at a disaster ready to help. Yet because they are not associated with any part of the existing emergency management response system, their offers of help are often underutilized and even problematic to professional responders. The paradox is clear: people’s willingness to volunteer versus the system’s capacity to utilize them effectively . Volunteers work in many different environments and it is important for them to be aware of their local security situation in order to stay safe, by minimizing the risks they face and increasing their capacities to deliver humanitarian services at all times. The stay safe procedures for volunteers should be organized taking into account three security scenarios:

Scenario 1 – low intensity during regular activities (normal situation): how to ensure the security and well-being of volunteers during their activities, including situations relating to health, events in public places, road accidents, local crime, and socio-economic problems.

Scenario 2 – emergency operations (situation during/after disasters): how to stay safe during crisis, emergency and disaster situations.

Scenario 3 – high intensity (situation during conflicts or internal disturbances): how to stay safe during internal disturbances, protests, escalating violence and conflict situations, which pose added risks for volunteers, such as antipersonnel mines, explosives, kidnapping, sexual assaults, and increased lawlessness.

Volunteer work is different from paid work. Volunteering has its own unique qualities:

  • Volunteers have a strong personal motivation
    This makes a big difference to our beneficiaries
  • Volunteers work part-time
    Most people only volunteer a few hours each week. Therefore, volunteering can be combined with any occupation and can continue for many years.
  • Volunteers are local
    They are part of the community. Volunteers know the needs and resources in the community, because they are already there.

But as volunteer you have just as MANY RIGHTS as a normal worker on site including FULL coverage under workers compensation claims and the right to refuse unsafe work.  Your work as a volunteer can be but not limited too;

Direct service — distribution of clothing and food, provision of water, medical service, tracing service and psychological support service, caring of victims and their families, volunteer registration, rehabilitation of living area and sanitation

Back up service — arrangement and distribution of donation in-kinds, logistic support, participating in fund raising activities, answering public enquiries, preparing receipts, arranging relief items, packing clothing and donation in-kinds, transportation of goods, promotion of disaster preparedness

Modeled after the successful National Donations Management Strategy, and given the limited resources available at the federal, provincial, and local levels, the successful integration of citizen involvement in an emergency management setting is imperative to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of disasters in our communities. Success, however, will require new levels of cooperation and commitment to partnership among the voluntary sector, professional first-responders, and all levels of government. While this may be a challenging goal, the priority and long-term value of this work cannot be denied.

  1. Volunteering and Community Life Volunteering is a valuable part of every healthy community. Volunteers come from all segments of society and often provide essential services. Everyone has the potential to contribute strength and resources in times of emergency.
  2. The Value of Affiliation Ideally, all volunteers should be affiliated with an established organization and trained for specific disaster response activities. However, the spontaneous nature of individual volunteering is inevitable; therefore it must be anticipated, planned for, and managed.
  3. Volunteer Involvement in the Four Phases There are valuable and appropriate roles for unaffiliated spontaneous volunteers in mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery – as well as in other areas of community need. The response phase provides an opportunity to direct volunteers toward longer-term affiliation and community involvement.
  4. Management Systems Volunteers are a valuable resource when they are trained, assigned, and supervised within established emergency management systems. Similar to donations management, an essential element of every emergency management plan is the clear designation of responsibility for the on-site coordination of unaffiliated volunteers. The Volunteer Coordination Team (VCT) is the mechanism for ensuring the effective utilization of this human resource.
  5. Shared Responsibility The mobilization, management, and support of volunteers is primarily a responsibility of local government and nonprofit sector agencies, with support from the state level. Specialized planning, information sharing, and a management structure are necessary to coordinate efforts and maximize the benefits of volunteer involvement.
  6. Volunteer Expectations Volunteers are successful participants in emergency management systems when they are flexible, self-sufficient, aware of risks, and willing to be coordinated by local emergency management experts. Volunteers must accept the obligation to “do no harm.”
  7. The Impact on Volunteers The priority of volunteer activity is assistance to others. When this spontaneous activity is well managed, it also positively affects the volunteers themselves and thus contributes to the healing process of both individuals and the larger community.

Affiliated volunteers are attached to a recognized voluntary or nonprofit organization and are trained for specific disaster response activities. Their relationship with the organization precedes the immediate disaster, and they are invited by that organization to become involved in a particular aspect of emergency management.

Unaffiliated volunteers are not part of a recognized voluntary agency and often have no formal training in emergency response. They are not officially invited to become involved but are motivated by a sudden desire to help others in times of trouble. They come with a variety of skills. They may come from within the affected area or from outside the area. (Also known as: “convergent,” “emergent,” “walk-in,” or “spontaneous.”) No community is immune to the havoc and devastation caused by disaster, whether natural or man-made. When disaster strikes, emergency management and voluntary agencies automatically mobilize. Each has a specific role to help ensure a community’s successful response to and recovery from the disaster’s devastation. Yet, one element within the present system continues to challenge this process: Spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers. These volunteers — our neighbors and everyday citizens — are eager to respond and contribute to the community’s recovery, but usually lack the training to help them be effective in these roles. Unaffiliated volunteers often arrive on-site in numbers too great for traditional disaster responders — emergency management, disaster relief agency staff, and affiliated volunteers — to manage as they try to meet the immediate needs of communities affected by



These volunteers — our neighbors and everyday citizens — are eager to respond and contribute to the community’s recovery, but usually lack the training to help them be effective in these roles. Unaffiliated volunteers often arrive on-site in numbers too great for traditional disaster responders — emergency management, disaster relief agency staff, and affiliated volunteers — to manage as they try to meet the immediate needs of communities affected by disaster. The challenge, therefore, is reconciling the desire to help felt by unaffiliated volunteers with the need of responder’s to do their jobs unencumbered by the responsibility of managing volunteers.

Effective and planned emergency volunteer management provides the opportunity to capture the inspiring, yet overwhelming, volunteer energy and interest that surfaces during the response phase. The envisioned disaster volunteer management process is consistent with the comprehensive emergency management cycle and includes roles for volunteers in each phase — mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Moreover, the approach to volunteer management in any given phase of the cycle supports efforts in the next phase. This holistic approach engages volunteers in the mitigation and preparedness stages to help build more disaster-resistant and well-equipped communities. Potential volunteers are introduced to the emergency management system prior to a disaster and, therefore, are likely to become trained and affiliated with an experienced voluntary agency. This approach is designed to generate volunteers that are more effective during response and recovery.

Voluntary and community-based organizations should:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment at work sites to determine necessary PPE and need for workers qualified to work with specific hazards such as electrical and structural.
  • Protect their work teams by providing necessary personal protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, hard hats, high-visibility work vests/clothing and hearing protection. Provide snake-bite-proof or resistant boots if teams are working in areas that may contain poisonous snakes.
  • Provide their work teams with first-aid kits and fire extinguishers.
  • Provide a responsible and knowledgeable team leader to supervise work teams at all times.
  • Ensure that there is a working telephone or cellular phone on the worksite along with a list of emergency contact numbers. The team leader should call into a central base at designated times during the day to report on conditions at the site.
    • Provide work teams with maps or GPS systems of their work area so that they are able to give their location to firefighters, police and first responders in the event of an emergency.
  • Ensure that a competent person evaluates the structural stability of buildings when access is necessary. A competent person is able to recognize existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions and has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.
  • Ensure that a competent person inspects the work site to locate overhead and downed power lines to prevent electrocutions when removing tree branches and other debris.
  • Train work teams to work safely in proximity of power lines and on the precautions necessary when erecting scaffolding and raising or lowering ladders.
  • Limit the operation of dangerous equipment to adults. For a suggested list of prohibited equipment for youth to operate see the Labor Standards Act statement.
  • Ensure that worksites have a cleanup area with soap and water available for handwashing. Provide a waterless alcohol-based hand rub if water is not available.
  • Provide work teams with drinking water and ensure availability of toilet facilities.

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Use caution when walking over debris fields since high winds and flooding can reduce the stability of structures and walkways.
  • Wear long pants, socks, long sleeves, and heavy work gloves when cleaning up debris.
  • Wear sturdy work boots (preferably steel-toed; no open toe shoes) at all times.
  • Wear rubber boots or overshoes that can be washed or decontaminated or use disposable shoe covers when working in an area contaminated with mold or floodwater.
  • Use kneepads when installing flooring.
  • Use teams of two or more persons to move large, bulky or heavy objects.
  • Use carts and dollies to move heavy objects whenever possible.
  • Refrain from entering damaged structures unless evaluated by a competent person and deemed safe to enter.

Electrical and Gas Hazards

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Take caution and treat all electrical lines, wires, equipment and fixtures as if they are energized until proven otherwise.
  • Make sure that electricity is turned off before starting demolition activities.
  • Use a lockout/tagout system to reduce the risk of electrocution when installing electrical wiring and fixtures. Use a qualified electrician for electrical installation.
  • Make sure that gas is turned off before conducting demolition activities.
  • Immediately evacuate buildings if a gas leak or odor is detected, and notify the site supervisor or team leader.

Respiratory Hazards

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Operate gasoline, propane and diesel-powered equipment (such as portable generators, power washers, compressors and pumps) only in well-ventilated outdoor areas to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide gas.
  • Tear off and remove drywall in pieces as large as possible to limit the amount of airborne drywall dust.
  • Use NIOSH-approved disposable filtering facepiece respirators (dust masks) as needed in tasks that generate dust.
  • Use water spray or mist to suppress dust generation and reduce the amount of airborne particulate matter, especially during operations that may create a lot of dust.
  • Stay upwind of or away from dust-generating activities, in particular involving crystalline silica-containing materials like concrete, brick, tile, drywall, mortar, sand, or stone.
  • Identify building materials such as painted surfaces and pipes that may contain lead. Use special equipment or methods to decrease lead-dust generation such as local exhaust ventilation, dust collection systems (on power tools), and good housekeeping practices.
  • If an area is known or suspected to contain asbestos, have an assessment done by a competent individual before entering the area; if asbestos is present, wait until it is removed or contained.
  • Notify the supervisor immediately if asbestos is identified at the site and stop work until it has been removed or contained.
  • Refrain from conducting demolition operations in areas with extensive mold buildup.

Personal Decontamination

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Always wash their hands with soap and water before eating, drinking, smoking, applying lip balm or cosmetics to prevent contamination of their mouth, nose or eyes with hazardous materials or infectious agents. Use a waterless alcohol-based hand cleaner if water is not available.
  • Shower and change into clean clothes at the end of each workday.
  • Separate work clothes from their general laundry to prevent exposing family members to hazardous materials and infectious agents.

Power Tools

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Inspect electric cords and equipment to ensure that they are in good condition and free of defects, especially when working in damp or wet conditions. Verify operation of safety features before use.
  • Know how to properly operate each power tool they use.
  • Ensure guarding on power tools is in good working order and always used.
  • Inspect all extension cords, remove from service those that are damaged, cut or have exposed wiring and inner insulation.
  • Set down a dry board or platform when using power tools in muddy or wet conditions.
  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) or double-insulated power tools that are approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. (NRTL). NRTLs are OSHA- recognized organizations which determine that specific equipment and materials meet consensus-based standards of safety.
  • Organize cords when using power tools and make sure that the work area is adequately lighted to reduce the risk of trip hazards.
  • Not wear loose-fitting or baggy clothing when using power tools.
  • Never operate electrical equipment while standing in water.

Motor Vehicles

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Ensure vehicles are inspected before use and are functioning safely.
  • Use spotters to assist drivers in backing up vehicles with obstructed rear views.
  • Use seat belts in all vehicles and all seats.
  • Not operate machinery unless they are authorized and have received specific training.
  • Not drive/operate machinery when fatigued.
  • Not work behind vehicles.


Work teams should be trained to:

  • Use hearing protection when noise levels exceed 85 decibels. Generally, if you cannot hold a normal conversation at arm’s length due to noise, then you should be wearing hearing protection.
  • Reduce noise levels by operating motorized equipment, such as generators, behind a barrier (while maintaining adequate ventilation).

Roofing and Working from Heights

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Wear shoes with nonslip rubber soles and adequate tread.
  • Use fall protection systems: guardrails, safety nets or fall arrest systems as needed.
  • Identify and mark areas of structural weakness.
  • Keep tools and materials organized to avoid trip hazards.
  • Not work on a roof during windy or rainy weather due to increased slip/fall risks.
  • Not work on a roof if lightning is taking place.
  • Inspect ladders for defects before using them.
  • Ensure that ladders are on stable ground and secured to the side of the building.
  • Keep their center of gravity at the center of the ladder without leaning or reaching to the sides.
  • Not stand on the top two rungs of a ladder.
  • Ensure that ladders are non-conductive.

Heat Stress

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Take frequent short breaks in cool shade when working in hot, humid conditions.
  • Drink small amounts of water frequently, e.g., one cup every 15-20 minutes to replace fluid loss from sweating.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing when possible. Wear a hat and UV-absorbent sunglasses.
  • Not drink alcohol and avoid caffeinated drinks and heavy meals.
  • Recognize the signs of heat-related illness and know what actions to take.

Insects and Animals

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Conduct an assessment of the animals/insects/reptiles common to the area and take necessary precautions to take to protect themselves against injury.
  • Watch for snakes, especially in debris. Wear heavy gloves and watch where they place their hands and feet.
  • Use insect repellants containing DEET or Picaridin and re-apply as necessary.
  • Cover exposed skin when possible to avoid insect bites.
  • Inspect themselves for ticks at the end of each work shift.
  • Avoid contact with and not attempt to restrain wild or stray animals.
  • Report insect and animal bites to their supervisor since medical attention may be necessary.

Chemical Use/Exposure


Work teams should be trained to:

  • Avoid exposure to chemicals and not handle unknown chemicals.
  • Understand the hazards of known chemicals and how to avoid exposure.
  • Use appropriate PPE such as gloves, eye/face protection and aprons as needed if in contact with chemicals.
  • Use and ensure a proper eye wash and/or shower is available if contact with corrosives is possible.
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