COVID-19: Keeping volunteers safe

1. Introduction

The support being offered by both formal voluntary and public sector partners and the many informal neighbourhood groups appearing daily goes to prove that Leicester and Leicestershire has a kind and caring community spirit, ready to help others in need.

Despite this, we all still have a responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe. That responsibility is perhaps even greater than ever as we all find new ways to help each other.

Thinking about how best to ensure your support activities are carried out safely can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never had to consider such issues before, however this guide is here to help!

This short guide covers:

  • What we mean by safeguarding and why it matters
  • Advice on how to assess and then minimise risk
  • Some tips on how to keep everyone safe when carrying out common support activities

This guide does not cover infection control. Information on how to best prevent infection and spread is covered in the latest NHS Guidance.

2. What is meant by safeguarding?

Safeguarding means protecting the health, wellbeing and human rights of everyone who is at risk, enabling them to live safely, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and reduce both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect.

If an organisation works with or around children and vulnerable adults, having strict and sometimes complex safeguarding policies and procedures in place will be one of its top priorities. While everyone acknowledges the unprecedented nature of what we are facing we all still have responsibility to be aware of potential risks and to take such measures as are possible to minimise them at all times, even when involved in an informal group rather than an established organisation.

3. How do we assess risk?

The circumstances in which both informal and formal groups are operating, the nature of the support they offer and the challenges they face will differ immensely. In addition, informal neighbourhood initiatives providing support to neighbours are not registered charities, and cannot be expected to have the same levels of protocols and policies in place.

In spite of this there are some basic steps which we all can take to assess and minimise risk. These steps are:

  1. Identifying hazards
  2. Assessing the risk of harm
  3. Assessing existing control measures, to see if they are acceptable
  4. Assessing if extra controls are needed
  5. Reviewing later on, to see if the controls are working

5. We are doing shopping, what should we know?

Here’s a few precautions for handling shopping that could help keep everyone safe. You may want to include these in your safeguarding practices;

  • Don’t go into any houses. Leave food/goods outside the doorstep. Communicate to the person in isolation that you have delivered via message or phone call. Get confirmation that the person has received it before you leave.
  • Check the safety of the products delivered. Check any packaging is sealed and the temperature of product on delivery e.g. If it’s meant to be frozen, is it still frozen?
  • Recommend that recipients wash shopping wherever possible and wash their hands after touching it.
  • Remember to wash hands before and after deliveries. Where possible wash for 20 seconds with soap and water. When out and about keep a bottle of alcohol hand sanitiser to hand.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing. If no tissue, cough and sneeze into the crook of your arm.
  • Volunteers should ensure they have a low chance of becoming infected. Where possible follow social distancing protocol and don’t take unnecessary risks.
  • Public transport should be avoided where possible. In cases where taking public transport is unavoidable, disinfection of the items delivered should be carried out.
  • Take care when handling any items which may be given to people who may have compromised immune systems. The virus can live on inanimate surfaces for up to 72 hours.
  • Disinfect any surface that will be touched by the person you are delivering to.

6. We are picking up prescriptions, what should we know?

Some of the prescriptions that volunteers may end up collecting have a potentially high street value. This means that it’s fairly likely people will want to steal them in order to sell them on. The danger of harm is likely to be high if someone doesn’t receive the medication they need. This is thus a high risk activity and should only be done if these precautions are followed:

  • Prescriptions should be picked up in pairs.
  • Volunteers collecting prescriptions should message organisers when they have collected prescriptions.
  • Volunteers should message organisers when they have delivered prescriptions.
  • Organisers should message the requester to confirm they have had their delivery before deleting the request.
  • If you collect a prescription, do not advise on doses, preparation or administration of medication even if you have a relevant qualification. This should only be done by the prescriber.
  • The same is true of over the counter medications, such as paracetamol and ibruprofen. No advice should be given by volunteers, no matter what you’ve read. The person requesting over the counter meds must take all responsibility for their request. If over the counter then only buy and deliver the maximum amount which can be purchased by one person (ie only 16 paracetamols and not boxes and boxes. If they need boxes then this should be prescribed).
  • Don’t provide a panic buying service for paracetamols, nor pasta, nor anything.

7. How do we keep people’s personal details safe?

Formal organisations of all types have often very complex data protection policies and procedures in place to ensure they carry out all of their legal responsibilities. However even though informal groups supporting neighbours through this crisis do not have those legal responsibilities they do still have a duty to do what they can to ensure people’s personal details are not shared inappropriately. You can do this by:

  • Always considering carefully whether someone’s details need to be shared before doing so. It’s important that information is only ever available to those who really need it to provide support.
  • Never publishing personal information on public forums such as social media. These forums can be a vital way to connect people at this difficult time but keep any personal information to controlled, private forums such as Whatsapp groups and even then only if necessary.

8. How do we keep everyone’s money safe?

It is not appropriate for volunteers to accept credit/debit cards from people asking for help in order to buy resources on their behalf as this is a safeguarding risk.
To reduce the risk of fraud, we recommend that wherever possible you do your shopping and come back with a receipt before asking for money from people in self-isolation. We also recommend that volunteers not make purchases larger than £30 for any one person or family in self-isolation.

You should keep a central record of any payments made. There should also be a central record of any concerns raised in respect of payments, and make people aware of how they can raise a concern.

Where possible payments should be made by bank transfer or paypal to minimise the risk of passing on the virus, but if that’s not possible then you can disinfect any cash you receive using soapy water.