Sports Law • Risk Management

Training Volunteers for Improved Safety in Sport

Last week I had a unique opportunity to volunteer for APEC 2011 Leaders Week and APEC 2011 CEO Summit held in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has only met in the USA on one other occasion (Seattle in 1993) and meant that the leaders and delegates from 21 Asia Pacific economies were hosted at many events. This required interviewing, selecting, screening and training 1,000 volunteers.

The host committee took their responsibilities in recruiting volunteers seriously and the many events went off without a hitch. At every reception that I served at as a volunteer, I spoke with the medical personnel staffing the event and they were never called to action. The security and planning were so significant that there were simply no problems whatsoever. This experience leads me to believe strongly that volunteers in sport and recreation should be interviewed, selected, screened and trained in a way not dissimilar to what I observed at APEC.

It is easy for event directors, owners, coaches and managers to utilize volunteers in a much more casual manner. However, volunteers are charged with important duties, which if shirked, could result in accidents, injuries, property damage or even death. Screening volunteers that work with youth will hopefully weed out potentially dangerous individuals. If you fail to check a volunteer driver’s driving records, your company may face a negligent entrustment lawsuit if the volunteer causes a motor vehicle accident while driving in the course and scope of his or her volunteer duties.

Training volunteers should be as seriously undertaken as the training of employees. If volunteers have no direction as to what their duties are and how to perform those duties, their actions or omissions may ultimately be determined to be negligent. Supervising volunteers should also be taken as seriously as the supervision and management of employees. If a volunteer does not perform in accordance with the requirements of the job, it may become necessary to change the volunteer’s position or terminate the relationship. Employing well structured and well managed volunteer programs should lead to safer sport and recreation programs.