Through your animal shelter’s or rescue’s services, there are numerous opportunities for volunteers to donate their time and help animals in need. Whether it is managing paperwork, taking dogs for a walk, or making sure the kittens and cats are well cared for, there is also a chance for volunteer injury. When injuries occur, you risk losing valuable volunteers, being responsible for medical expenses, or coming face to face with a lawsuit.

All animal shelters and rescues need volunteers, but, unfortunately, not all of them have policies, procedures, or the right insurance in place to protect their mission. You can change that today by taking the following steps to minimize accidents and protect your volunteers.

Steps to minimize volunteer accidents:

  1. Identify areas of concern.

Review past volunteer injuries to identify problem areas that need to be addressed. Once you have those listed, observe any areas or activities that cause injury. Look for ways to prevent injuries and create a list of ideas to implement.

Alternatively, you can also observe all activities happening in your animal shelter or rescue to look for other potential areas of concern. Create a list of ideas that can help streamline and eliminate volunteer injuries.

  1. Document expectations.

Take your list of ideas and create documented procedures and policies that clearly explain your expectations. These can include the proper ways to care for animals, lift heavy objects, transport animals, and how often volunteers should take breaks throughout the day.

  1. Train volunteers.

Schedule mandatory training sessions for volunteers to attend. Explain the areas of concern, steps you took to review the processes, and new policies and procedures. Give volunteers time to review the procedures and ask questions so they gain a clear idea of your new expectations. Be open to hearing additional ideas or concerns since they are on the front line in these scenarios every day.

  1. Eliminate hazards.

After you have your volunteer team on board, work together to remove hazards like excessive boxes or wiring to prevent falls.

What happens if a volunteer is injured?

Even with a documented approach, volunteer injuries can still happen. bites, scratches, falls, and lifting injuries are extremely common in animal shelters and rescues. The best way to protect your shelter or rescue is to make sure you have volunteer accident insurance.

Volunteer accident insurance is similar to worker’s compensation insurance for employees. It pays costs associated with an injury that occurs while a volunteer is working for your animal shelter or rescue. The main difference is it pays costs that their health insurance doesn’t cover like deductible expenses.

Where can you find volunteer accident insurance?

Insurance agents that specialize in nonprofit or animal shelter insurance can provide you with a quote for volunteer accidents.

Investing in volunteer accident insurance shows volunteers that you care about their safety and well-being. By showing you care, you are more likely to retain valuable volunteers and recruit new volunteers after an injury occurs.

Accidents happen. Every day nonprofit animal shelter teams work to educate, provide, and raise money for animals in need in their communities and beyond. Directors in charge of these valuable animal rescue organizations know firsthand volunteers are the foundation of a nonprofit’s success. But accidents do happen – to volunteers, visitors, and foster parents. Many animal shelters utilize policies, procedures, and handbooks to minimize the risk of incidents and accidents. Do you have an accident investigation plan ready to implement when “life happens”?

Accidents
There are a variety of accidents animal shelters and rescues experience during normal daily operations:

  • Slip & falls
  • Animal scratches
  • Animal bites
  • Animals knocking down volunteers or visitors
  • Scrapes, bruises, and cuts

Each type of accident (sometimes referred to as incidents) requires a unique plan to proactively manage the outcome and take care of the injured parties.
Accident Investigation Plans
Accident investigation plans are too often overlooked as part of the plan to manage accidents. They offer nonprofit animal shelters and rescues a great deal of valuable information. You can identify 3 main items in an accident investigation:

  • What and how the accident occurred.
  • What critical decisions were made or missed?
  • What can you do to prevent in the future?

Taking the time to investigate every accident requires time – but it is time well spent if you prevent future injuries.
Step by Step

  1. Appoint a lead person to investigate.
    Select a neutral individual to lead and conduct the accident investigation. A neutral party has no outside personal ties to any of the parties involved in the accident and is not considered a witness to the accident.
  2. Provide a briefing.
    Provide them with an overview of the accident. What you know happened, where it occurred, who is involved, and what steps are being taken to provide care and treatment.
  3. Inspect the accident site.
    It is important the investigator start by inspecting the accident site. Look for signs of the accident, anything that might have caused the accident, anything that potentially impacted the decision-making process during the accident.
  4. Conduct interviews.
    Have the investigator interview those involved in the accident along with any witnesses. Document facts only and guide interviewees to leave personal opinions out of the discussion.
  5. Analyze findings.
    Review all facts and interview details to gain a 360-degree perspective of the accident. Look for changes and updates your animal shelter can make to prevent future occurrences.
  6. Make changes.
    Implement these changes by updating procedures, policies, and handbooks. Hold a mandatory volunteer training to assure each volunteer has a clear understanding of new expectations. Have each volunteer sign a statement acknowledging they understand the updates.
  7. Document.
    Documentation is vital in any incident, occurrence or accident. Document complete investigation findings in a final report along with updates and changes implemented. Include a list of all volunteers who participated in the training and include their signed acknowledgment form.

Conducting a comprehensive accident investigation seems daunting and time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be. Create a plan and procedure now on how you will investigate future accidents. Your animal shelter or rescue benefits from a better understanding of how and why decisions are made in critical moments. You can be proactive in making changes to minimize future occurrences and promote a safe volunteer work environment.

Foster parents are a vital part of your volunteer organization. They provide a safe haven and care for animals in need. Most animal shelters or animal rescues utilize volunteer handbooks. These handbooks identify how the volunteer program works and typically include a section dedicated to foster parent volunteers.
Foster parents have a unique set of responsibilities. Address these responsibilities in a manual created specifically for your foster parents. Make sure you include these 5 key components.

  1. Welcome Letter. Include a letter welcoming the new foster home to your animal rescue group. Include statistics illustrating how many animals you help, the number of foster homes in your network, and why they are important.
  2. Frequently Asked Questions. Address FAQ’s in the front of the manual. These address common concerns for foster parents immediately. Where do the foster animals come from? Can I foster a dog with a full-time job or with no fence? How long does each animal need care? How do I adopt my foster dog? These are just a few samples – include the questions you hear most often.
  3. Requirements. Address requirements up front. What steps do fosters need to take to “dog proof” their home? What supplies do they need to purchase? What activities are not acceptable for the animals?
  4. Expectations. What activities do you expect the foster to perform daily, weekly, and monthly? Walking/exercises, training, socializing, grooming expectations, and adoption family appointments need to be outlined in this section.
  5. Policies and Procedures. Animals are unpredictable. Address what steps fosters need to take in certain situations. Who do they contact if the animal bites them, bites somebody else, shows signs of aggression, or gets sick or injured? Outline when veterinary services need contacted and how the foster parent can help at home.

Creating a strong network of foster homes is the key to successful adoptions. Manage expectations and requirements upfront with a foster manual.

An animal shelter provides a valuable service to the community. In addition to housing lost dogs and cats, they offer optimal care to animals of all kinds. This includes ample food and water, along with immunization and daily medical treatments by certified veterinarians. Animals are also given plenty of love and attention, especially those that have been mistreated or discarded. While animal shelters play a pivotal role in the community, they are not exempt from risks or possible litigation. In fact, several shelters are sued each year due to unintentional negligence or customer mishaps. To effectively protect your animal shelter from unforeseen circumstances, you simply need liability insurance.

Liability coverage shields your center and its employees/volunteers from faulty claims. It also protects your venue in the event of emergencies, including fires, vandalism, structural abuse, and especially dog bites. While an animal shelter provides warmth and comfort to countless animals, it is highly exposed and susceptible to claims of all kinds. While insurance can minimize these exposures, there are ways for managers and directors to safeguard their shelters as well. This includes a stringent cell phone usage policy for all employees and volunteers. When it comes to cell phone policies and procedures, the SPCA and other animal rescue centers already have strict rules in place. This includes zero texting policies while at work, along with accessing the Internet for non-work related endeavors.

While emergencies can happen at any time, employees should urge their family members to contact their work phone. Since employee privacy can still be an issue, your policy needs to be clear and concise. It should explain the general purpose of the policy, while addressing key safety and security concerns. The policy should also extend to directors and managers, since they need to set good examples for their work force. If desired, the policy can be broken down into easy to read sections. These sections should cover cell phone use while transporting animals, along with general use at work and unsafe situations or scenarios. If the shelter, however, awards cell phones to employees or volunteers, they need to restrict usage to job related tasks and endeavors. They also need to set limits as based on their monthly charges or overall budget.

Cell phone policies tend to differ within animal welfare organizations. No matter which policy you implement, the terms should be clear and signed by all employees and staff.