Until you’ve participated in a church “work bee,” you may not appreciate all the hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and commitment it takes to maintain a thriving church. For many churches, a work bee involves members and leaders volunteering to help with the maintenance and physical upkeep of the church property. When holding a church work bee, event organizers should take the necessary precautions to identify risks and be ready to mitigate them.As a leader, you must prioritize the safety of your volunteers at events like a church work bee. This moral duty of care is reinforced by a legal liability for injuries that result from the actions or omissions of our church leaders and volunteers. The aim of planning and organizing events must always be to operate a program free of injury. Here are some things to consider as you plan your next church work bee:
Before the day of the event, you should begin identifying some of the risks that may exist.
Are the premises and facilities free of physical hazards? Cleaning up downed tree limbs and other debris may be the reason for your work bee, but any other existing hazards should be removed prior to the event. Consider interior hazards as well. You may be opening areas of your church typically closed off. Does this present any risks not typically experienced?
Is all the equipment that will be used by volunteers in good repair? Is it safe? Does the church provide the proper safety equipment suited to the activity? Are the volunteers properly trained in how to use this equipment?
Check any tools owned by the church to ensure they are in safe working order before allowing volunteers to use them. Wooden ladders should be inspected for weak rungs, and extension cords and power tools should be inspected for any frayed wires. If equipment does not meet the basic standards for quality, it should be taken out of service and replaced.
If children or youth are going to be volunteering as well, is there proper supervision available for them? The required degree of supervision will vary according to the ages of those being supervised. Naturally, a fifth grader will require closer supervision than someone who is college-aged, who must accept a greater degree of responsibility for their own actions. As the event organizer, you have the responsibility of care, custody, and control, along with a duty to protect your volunteers.
You may also want to consider providing activities and programs for children too young to participate in the work bee so their parents can focus on volunteering. These activities should be distinctly removed from the areas where the work is happening so younger children are not in danger. Be sure to follow proper procedures for the supervision of children, including having a 6:1 ratio of children to adults.
Because many of the activities from a church work bee occur outside, the weather can actually be one of your biggest risk factors. Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can present health risks for your volunteers. Do volunteers have proper protection from extreme temperatures? If it’s hot, is there proper hydration available for volunteers?
Other Potential Risks
Many risks center around the core functions of the work bee itself, but there may be other risks present that should not be overlooked. For example, if you are going to serve food for your volunteers, be sure to take all the regular precautions for food preparation, serving, and storage. At an event such as this, food may be left out for longer periods of time than at a Sabbath potluck, so maintaining proper temperatures for both hot and cold foods is critical. This is especially true if you’re serving food outside of the church building.
As it has with virtually everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many of the events and activities we are used to doing. Something as basic as a work bee may take on a very different feel in this new environment.
A work bee is no different from any other church event in that it should comply with all local jurisdiction guidelines regarding social distancing, face coverings, and gathering size. Restrictions are continually being reassessed and revised, so it's important to be up to date on the current guidance from your local health department and other jurisdictional governance.
The simplest way to identify risks when planning or organizing events is to break down the bigger picture into phases, or smaller segments, and conduct internal and external research on them. Only after understanding the risks involved in the different phases—including the severity, frequency, and likelihood they will occur—are you able to implement controls that will prevent or minimize those incidents.
Risk Control – Prevent, Minimize, or Avoid
Now that we’ve identified potential risks, it’s important to have practices in place that prevent or minimize these risks. This is called risk control, and it is a critical part of the risk management process, especially when hosting events like a work bee.
One of the best ways to prevent accidents is to assign only qualified volunteers to certain jobs. It may sound obvious, but this isn’t the time for one of your church members to learn how to use a chainsaw. Vetting volunteers based on their expertise should be clearly outlined. Highly technical jobs—such as electrical work, roof repairs, HVAC, major paint work, mechanical repairs, and certain landscaping projects—should not be attempted during a volunteer work bee. It is tempting to try to get some of these expensive projects done with volunteer labor, but if something goes wrong, the cost may be even higher, both financially and to the safety of your members.
In addition to improving the physical nature of a church facility, a work bee often serves to revitalize the church members through fellowship and the shared experience of physical labor. However, this sense of community can be shattered if there is a serious injury that has lasting effects on the church family. Taking precautions to ensure a safe work bee is not something to take lightly.