Thursday, 18 November 2010

Managing Volunteers

A few events of the last week or so have made me think again about how we manage volunteers. I spent many years living in the management system of one of the best managed companies – and some time developing and implementing parts of this management system. Yet we seem to ignore most of this in the volunteer sector. Risk management is a good example. The Health and Safety Executive and particularly the press have done a poor job in its handling of risk assessments. They have become the excuse for silly notices and inappropriate bureaucracy. Why don't owners of public buildings turn down the boiler thermostat rather than putting up notices next to hot taps warning about hot water?

The HSE has achieved enormous improvements in safety in the workplace – just look at the employee fatality statistics

See more at their web site here.

However we still get appalling 'accidents' like the death of Charlotte Shaw on the Ten Tors Challenge a few years ago – read a report of the inquest here. We seem unable to get people to have an awareness of risk and to modify their actions accordingly. I see it all the time: how often have you seen a walker or jogger on the right side of a road with no pavement not looking over his or her shoulder when a car approaches from behind? Or wearing earphones? The chance of being hit by the car is slim but the result could be fatal. Actually, with the way some drivers go round our lanes makes the chance greater than slim but that's another story.

I've even had a Young Enterprise company, planning to run an event in the school, tell me not to worry about the risk assessment because the office was going to do that! Were they not going to be aware of the risks themselves? I've also had a YE company when prompted produce a risk plan that was described by a colleague adviser as one of the most professional plans he had seen – and he worked for Am Int (GE Healthcare now) where they manage the risks of radioactive production!

It's not an easy area: I remember at work when we first tried to introduce an approach to risk management for use with our customers, the legal department tried to veto it “we can't suggest that there's any risk in implementing our systems” Common sense prevailed. We need an appropriate level of bureaucracy but most importantly we need to get people to be aware of risks and to manage them sensibly.

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