Community-University Partnerships & Service Learning
Liability may not be something you have thought about for your service-learning course but it is a very important part of your project. Here are some liability questions you should think about before students are sent out into the field.
The components of a risk management program
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines (1989) an effective occupational safety and health program includes four essential elements: 1) management commitment and employee involvement; 2) work-site examinations to identify existing hazards as well as conditions and operations in which changes might occur to create hazards; 3) hazard prevention control; and 4) safety and health training. OSHA's experience in the Voluntary Protection Program has illustrated that effective management of safety and health protection improves employee morale and productivity, as well as significantly reduces workers' compensation costs and other less obvious costs of work-related injuries and illnesses. Visit OSHA for more information.
With these points in mind, consider having the following policies, procedures, and processes in place for your service-learning program:
Visit with your community partner and talk through the questions posed above. Visit the community settings and organizations that your students are likely to be in during their service-learning experience. Visit these settings and organizations when your students are there, to gain first-hand knowledge of the situations in which they are serving and learning. Meet with your community partners after the service-learning experience has ended, to "debrief" about the experience from the risk management and liability standpoints - what would you do differently next time?
Having adequate supervision on-site and in the community - whether an agency staff member, volunteer, campus faculty or campus staff - will help to create a safe environment for service-learning. Be sure that direct supervisors are oriented to risk management and liability issues, in part to assure that the policies of your academic institution and the community partner are being adhered to.
Risk management and liability issues should be covered in your program's orientation for participating students, faculty, and community partners. Students should be made aware of risks associated with service-learning, but they should be presented in context so as not to unduly frighten or intimidate students from participating. It can be helpful to involve students who have previously completed the service-learning experience as speakers during the orientation. Students often feel more comfortable about the situation if they hear about the positive experiences of other students. It is especially important to spend time orienting and training students in safety procedures, potential dangers, and the risk management policies of your school and community partners. Time spent here can help avoid future problems by bringing potential problems to the attention of participants. When orienting students and community partners, provide a summary handout or handbook with checklists, appropriate forms, and emergency contact information.
Open, frequent, and clear lines of communication are key to reducing risks in service-learning. For example, your community partners and your students should know whom to contact at the campus should any questions or emergencies arise in the course of the service-learning experience. Frequent communication with your community partners should help to identify any issues or concerns and to address them early in the process.
Campuses will often state that they are not liable for students getting to and from community sites in an informed consent form. When the vehicle is either university-owned or operated, or community agency-owned or operated, these practices can minimize risks to both student and driver: screen all drivers, follow safety precautions, develop and implement training for all drivers, ensure all vehicles are safe (with appropriate maintenance schedules), provide policies for passenger behavior. When using public transportation, determine the risks of bus, train, subway, walking, etc. and take actions to minimize these risks (e.g., by organizing car pools, pairing students who travel by bus together to the site).
Management Policy and Procedures Manual
We recommend developing a risk management policies and procedures manual that contains these documents:
- Mission, goals, and objectives of the service-learning program.
- Mission, goals, and objectives of the risk management program
- Relevant policies and procedures: for example, liability policies, sexual harassment policies, human subjects protection policies, campus or community vehicle policy, state and federal laws and regulations.
- Contact information for campus and community partner staff dedicated to the process of risk management and liability.
- List of approved service-learning and volunteer placements with contact information, highlighting any site-specific forms that need to be completed (i.e., fingerprinting, background checks).
- Service-learning agreement or contract. This form should explicitly state the legal roles and responsibilities of community and campus participants engaged in service-learning.
- Student-related documents: a checklist of forms that students need to review and/or complete, and copies of those forms. For example, waiver, permission, and informed consent forms. Informed consent forms should provide clear, explicit information about the possible dangers of the service-learning experience, should be obtained in writing and kept on file. A good informed consent procedure can minimize the possibility of a claim alleging that the harmed party would not have participated in the experience had s/he been better informed of the risks (Tremper & Kostin, 1997).
- Community partner—related documents: A checklist of forms that community partners need to review and/or complete, and copies of those forms. For example, service-learning contracts, memoranda of understanding, certificate of liability insurance, log to keep track of student hours and participation on-site.
- "Do's and don'ts" safety and risk management tips for service learners—a list ideally developed collaboratively by representatives of both the community and campus. "Do's and don't" might include, for example, do not give agency staff or clients a ride in a personal vehicle, do not engage in any type of business with clients during the term of your service, do not give or loan a client money or other personal belonging.
Often overlooked, this file should include records of accidents, safety violations, training and orientation sessions and participant sign-up sheets. It also should include any relevant maintenance schedules (e.g., for campus vans used to transport service-learning students), reports of recommended corrective actions, claims reports, and so forth. Having this resource available can serve to diminish future violations and/or injury.
considerations for international service-learning experiences
Although many of the above-mentioned issues also apply in international settings, there are some additional issues to consider. For example, students must adhere to health and safety requirements related to the country they will be visiting; there may be vaccines or prophylactic medications required before entry. The pre-travel orientation should include such information as local customs and laws, contact information for the U.S. embassy in the country, medical services available and plans for communicating regularly with the school while on-site.
Source: Tanis V. Mihalynuk and Sarena D. Seifer, Community Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH), February 2003, updated by Pam Mutascio, Campus Compact, September 2008
Risk Management at UVM
Travel Safety Guidelines
Liability Risk Management
Last modified January 17 2013 01:28 PM