Source: Tanis V. Mihalynuk and Sarena D. Seifer, Community Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH), February 2003, updated by Pam Mutascio, Campus Compact, September 2008
This fact sheet is not intended to be a legal document nor to replace legal advice and consultation. Use this document as a basic guide to navigate liability and risk management issues in higher education service-learning experiences. Be sure to contact a legal advisor at your academic institution for other pertinent information.
Risk management is "the formal process by which an organization establishes its risk management goals and objectives, identifies and analyzes its risks, and selects and implements measures to address its risks in an organized fashion" (Young and Tomski, 2002). Today's risk management process encompasses more than just insurance, work safety and health and legal liability management. It also includes an ongoing and complex process of evaluating and minimizing inherent, enduring organizational risks—in this case, those of the academic institution, students, community agencies, community members, and others involved in the service-learning experience. To avoid health and legal liability, risk management procedures need to be considered before starting any service-learning experience. This fact sheet provides background information and describes a systematic approach to establishing a safe, minimal risk environment for all participants: students, faculty, supervisors, transporters, community agency representatives, and others. Additional information and resources are available at the NSLC Topic page on Risk Management: www.servicelearning.org/topic/theory-practice/risk-management.
Risk management is an ongoing process that requires responsiveness to evolving governmental and workplace laws and regulations. You may be concerned about how the risk management process affects community partners and students in terms of perceptions of personal risk. You may also be wondering how to manage risks without stereotyping the communities and unnecessarily frightening students or perpetuating negative or false images of these communities. If all participants are adequately informed, involved, and oriented, the risk management process will strengthen community-campus partnerships by furthering mutual trust and understanding.
Getting started - Become informed, learn from others
Start by inquiring about the policies and procedures that may already be in place on your campus: does your campus have a risk management policy for community-based educational experiences, for community service, or for clinical placements? To avoid duplication of effort, be sure to consult with administrators and faculty in other schools and departments on your campus that have an existing service-learning or community-based learning program in place. If your campus has an Office of Service-Learning or related office, consult with them as well. Learn from their stories of both successes and challenges involved in managing risks and avoiding liability. When available, request pertinent documents—such as student and agency orientation materials, consent forms, university-agency agreement forms, liability policies—to review as templates for your program.
In general, the more the service-learning environment is sanctioned by the academic institution, the greater the potential for liability to the academic institution. Conversely, the less the service-learning environment is sanctioned by the academic institution, the greater the potential for liability to the participating students and agency. For example, if the student does community service on his or her own—outside the scope of a credit-bearing course or official campus program—the student is probably not covered by the institution's liability insurance. In either scenario, it is important to create signed agreements that clarify the liability insurance coverage provided by the community partner and the academic institution involved in service-learning. Be sure to check your state's requirements; for example, worker's compensation insurance may be required by state law. Worker's compensation for students is often the responsibility of the academic institution if the service-learning experience is a requirement.
Although it is critical to have some form of liability insurance coverage at both the community agency and the academic institution, financial losses will only be an issue if an adverse event occurs—the ultimate goal is to prevent any adverse occurrences. It is not just financial losses that are at stake; one must also consider prevention of other losses, including loss of trust and mutual understanding in community-campus relations, which is the foundation of a successful partnership.
Liability prevention involves the systematic identification, analysis, measurement and reduction of risks. It encompasses several aspects of the service-learning experience, including the community agency (e.g., slipping on a wet stairway), product or service delivery (e.g., quality of care provided), transportation (e.g., motor vehicle accident), and worker's compensation, among others. An example of risk prevention includes training students in safe needle disposal before working in health clinics. An example of risk reduction includes assuring that gloves are available for student use in health care environments, or a review of emergency response procedures, such as fire exits.
If an adverse event occurs that involves legal intervention, consider the following:
- Injury to student in service-learning experience: typically, medical costs are paid through workers' compensation when the students' injuries resulted while he/she was providing service within the scope of the SL experience
- Injury to someone else by student or faculty in service-learning experience: in this case, there is the possibility of litigation…anybody involved in the situation could be named as a defendant, including the student, the academic institution, the faculty member, or the community agency. The academic institution would defend and indemnify the student and the faculty if each were operating within the scope of their student or faculty roles.
Risk management is an ongoing process that requires continuous revision in response to changing governmental and workplace policies. To assure sustainability of your community-campus partnership, adequate planning, orientation, and continual evaluation are essential. Furthermore, involving all stakeholders from the community and the campus in the risk management process will assure a safe, trusting, and enjoyable service-learning experience.
Conduct a risk and liability assessment
Minimizing potential risks to all service-learning participants requires adequate time for planning and orientation. Conduct a thorough review of potential risks before embarking upon the service-learning experience. Discuss your questions and concerns with your community agency partners and campus colleagues. This assessment might include such questions as:
- What are the potential risks to service-learners of having contact with agency clients? For example, are clients likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol? What policies and procedures are in place at the agency to protect their staff, volunteers and service-learners from risks due to contact with agency clients? Will students ever work unsupervised with clients?
- What are the potential risks to service-learners of traveling to and from their homes, the campus, and the agency? For example, what is the rate of various crimes in the immediate and general vicinities of the agency? How and during what times of day will students travel to and from the campus, their homes and their service-learning sites? Is parking provided? Is public transportation accessible? Are escorts needed or provided for staff, volunteers, or service-learners to safely travel from the agency to public transportation, parking lot, etc.?
- What are the potential risks to agency staff and clients of having student service-learners on-site, and how might they be minimized? What are the existing requirements for staff and volunteers at the agency? For example, do they need to be fingerprinted, have criminal background checks, and be tested for tuberculosis or other communicable diseases?
- How is risk and liability insurance provided to cover service-learners? Does the community agency cover insurance for liability, worker's compensation, volunteers? Does the university?
- How is confidentiality of students, agency staff, and clients assured? Are there policies in place for confidentiality? Are pictures or video allowed?
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:
- Site Visits
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).
- Risk 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.
- Loss Reporting File
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.
- Special 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.
Examples of campus online resources
Boise State University
This site includes Risk Management and Insurance with Service-Learning FAQ's, an Informed Consent Form for service-learning trips, incident report procedures, and safety tips for students.
Brigham Young University - Idaho
This page describes the set of steps BYUI staff and faculty should take in ensuring students are properly covered when leaving the campus for service-learning experiences, including a Master Service-Learning Placement form and a BYUI Student Service-Learning Agreement.
California State University System
This guidebook on Managing Risk in Service-Learning offers guiding principles to reduce risk in service-learning, describes a process for implementing risk management, and provides a number of tools and checklists.
Iowa State University
This page on Risk Management and Service-Learning is intended to assist faculty in assessing program risk issues.
Maricopa Community College
This extensive site, created by Maricopa's Office of the General Counsel Risk Management Division, includes forms, information, resources, presentations, and new items in areas such as assumption of risk, claims, insurance, international education, and motor vehicle usage.
St. Edward's University
This site includes a risk management manual, procedures for international trips and study abroad, and a checklist of when to use risk management forms.
This online Service Learning Risk Management Manual covers Suffolk's programmatic and risk management approach to design and implement service learning into a class. It includes a community-based organization site visit checklist, service learning agreements, and assessment materials.
University of San Francisco
This Service-Learning Packet for Faculty includes many forms useful for the planning and implementation of a service learning course, as well as general information on liability and risk management.
University of Texas at Austin
The Student Service Orientation Training Module Summary addresses risk management along with other topics important for preparing students for community-based activities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Travelers Health Resource Page
This site contains a wealth of information about health in other countries, information about specific diseases that can affect travelers, vaccination recommendations and resource publications such as "Health Information for International Travel."
Campbell, J., & Hammerlink, J., eds. (2007). Campus in community forums: Civic engagement in higher education. Upper Midwest Campus Compact Consortium.
The publication's section on Risk Management contains a compilation of dialogue and resources from an online forum.
Goldstein, M. B. (1990). Legal issues in combining service and learning. In Combining service and learning: a resource book for community and public service, volume II, edited by J. C. Kendall. Raleigh, NC: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education.
This chapter provides a basic guide to the legal issues involved in programs that combine educational goals with direct involvement in the community.
Joyce, S. A. & Ikeda, E. K. (2002). Serving safely: A risk management resource for college service programs. San Francisco: California Campus Compact.
This resource guide includes sections on defining terms; designing a safe service program; different kinds of insurance; sample forms and guiding questions to use in assessing and managing risk; and a list and description of online resources.
Negotiating the legal maze to volunteer service. (2002).
This is part of a 'Community Service Briefs' series written on legal liability, insurance, and risk management for grantees of the Corporation for National Service, but the many principles and strategies apply to other community-serving organizations. The series is designed to provide guidance on resolution of legal issues; suggests strategies that program managers can implement to prevent legal problems from hampering their operations; and offer suggestions for modifying laws that may inhibit national and community service. Other related topics include: Criminal History and Record Checks; managing Volunteers within the Law; and Insurance Basics for Community Serving Programs.
Nonprofit Risk Management Center
This website offers a free Risk Management Essentials electronic newsletter; a free to download report on State Liability Laws for Charitable Organizations and Volunteers; and a variety of fact sheets, tools, and tutorials (including "No Surprises: Volunteer Risk Management").
Risk Management Resource Center
This website provides briefs and other information to help local governments, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses manage risks effectively.
Rue, P. (1996). Administering successful service-learning programs. In Service-Learning in higher education: Concepts and practices, edited by B. A. Jacoby. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
This chapter describes the components of managing a service-learning program, including a section on risk management.
Simonelli, J. (2000). Service Learning Abroad: Liability and Logistics. Metropolitan universities: An international forum. 11, 1: 35-44.
This review addresses the issues of college liability and logistics in off-campus experiential programs, especially programs abroad with service learning components. The author warns that liability problems, e.g. safety issues, legal concerns and ethical responsibility to the local community can threaten program viability and overshadow learning objectives and concludes by urging specialized preparation for all involved.
University Risk Management and Insurance Association
The University Risk Management and Insurance Association is a membership organizationthat promotes the advancement and application of effective risk management principles and practices in institutions of higher education. It hosts regional and national conferences and offers an online library and journal.
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