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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Coronavirus advice for volunteers

This opinion piece is over 4 years old

George Thomson gives practical guidance on the health and wellbeing of volunteers

We've detailed the following practical steps for volunteers (and volunteer managers) to consider:

1. Does your organisation have a business continuity plan or a Covid-19 policy?

This is the starting point for practical advice that will apply to volunteering. Read it and digest it. If volunteering is not included, advocate to leadership that information on volunteers be added asap.

2. Can volunteers clearly communicate their needs?

Check that there is a clear system in place for getting in touch with volunteers / the organisation (e.g. when cancelling a shift). If you're unsure of what this is, ask. Also, make sure that your emergency contact details are up-to-date.

It's important that you can discuss honestly your situation and that managers / organisations exercise their duty of care towards you. At a minimum, this should be about encouraging volunteers to be cautious and to take care of themselves.

Volunteers just as for other members of society may be experiencing heightened anxiety - understand that Covid-19 and the response needed, affects each of us differently. Volunteers who are elderly or immunocompromised are at increased threat for serious complications. Volunteers living in poverty are less equipped financially to prepare for self-isolation. Those who have limited sick time or can't afford a period of time off work, may be afraid of missing work through volunteering etc.

3. Remember volunteering is a choice, freely made

If you decide not to volunteer for any reason your organisation will support your decision, including and up to a decision to temporarily suspend your own volunteering during this uncertain time.

Please take all necessary precautions if you are immunocompromised, or live with/care for someone who is immunocompromised.

4. Does your volunteering meet the tests set by the Volunteer Charter

Specifically, the Volunteer Charterstates that 'volunteers and paid workers should be able to carry out their duties in safe, secure and healthy environments' and 'volunteers should not carry out duties formerly carried out by paid workers nor should they be used to disguise the effects of non-filled vacancies or cuts in services'. Clearly we are in some extraordinary times however it is important that these tests are still met.

5. Be clear on when to self-isolate

Follow the latest advice provided by Health Protection Scotland and NHS inform.

George Thomson
George Thomson

What to consider if you have to stay at home:

Plan ahead and ask other team members for help to ensure that you can successfully and effectively volunteer from home if you are not sick / don’t have symptoms.

Ask friends and family as well as colleagues to help you get the things you need to stay at home.

Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water

Stay away from vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, as much as possible.

Consider whether older people and those with underlying health conditions can stay in another house if you need to stay at home.

Keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues over the phone or through social media

This action will help protect others in your place of volunteering as well as your community

6. What do I do if you become unwell whilst volunteering?

This advice is based on that provided by Health Protection Scotland and NHS inform. If you develop any of the Covid-19 symptoms (a high temperature or a new continuous cough), please inform your volunteer manager or another manager immediately and go home to self-isolate or if you are seriously unwell, call NHS 111 or dial 999.

You should:

Keep at least 2 meters away from others

Avoid touching anything

Advise your volunteer manager (or other manager) of any areas you’ve been to or surfaces you may have touched in the office

Advise of anyone you’ve been in close contact with since feeling unwell

If you are able to drive home, you should do so. If you have arrived by public transport or car share, you should arrange a taxi or a driver to take you home.

If you are seriously unwell and require medical attention, it is advised you should be isolated while you wait for advice or an ambulance.

Your organisation should arrange for an office deep clean after any affected volunteer has left the building.

7. Follow best practice to prevent catching or spreading Coronavirus

Follow the advice provided by Health Protection Scotland and NHS inform.

Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.

Wash your hands when you arrive at work and get home.

Use hand sanitizer gel if no soap and water is available.

Cover mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve if you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands aren’t clean.

Clean your desk, monitor, keyboard and phone regularly.

Wash cutlery and crockery used thoroughly with hot water and detergent; dry it thoroughly immediately and put it away.

Avoid physical contact with others as far as possible including shaking hands or hugging.

We encourage you to carry some tissues with you at all times in case you need to sneeze or cough.

Should you be given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to carry out your volunteering? If you are volunteering with beneficiaries (or you yourself are) at higher threat of serious complications (see also point 3), take all recommended precautions. This includes use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as and when guided by your organisation.

8. Involve volunteers in planning around volunteering

Include volunteers in decision-making around plans and policies affecting them. Having volunteers at the table will ensure that their concerns are heard and addressed.

Ask volunteers about their availability to continue volunteering 1) currently, 2) if schools were to close, 3) if self isolated (only if remote volunteering is possible). For volunteers who have high availability, ask if they would be willing to increase their volunteering temporarily to help fill gaps (given that they are healthy). Track responses and keep a database/spreadsheet of volunteers who anticipate availability in certain situations.

Work with organisational leaders to prioritize programming/services delivered by volunteers and determine where volunteering services should be focused if there is a significant decrease in availability.

9. Consider if and how volunteers can work remotely

Volunteers may need to work from home particularly if impacted by school closures and caring responsibilities. As well as thinking about the work volunteers can complete for your organization remotely you should determine what considerations have been made around infrastructure, equipment and processes required to allow volunteers to work remotely and the ongoing support they need.

10. Postpone large-scale volunteer events or training in the next few months

Social distancing by avoiding crowds and events helps “flatten the curve” of the virus and helps keep cases within the capacity of our NHS.

If you have further queries, you can email