Are you aware that basic health and safety regulations apply to nonprofits, too? Meaning that you as organization bear responsibility for a safe workplace? And if you would operate a kitchen as part of your activities, you would need to follow relevant health regulations like any café or restaurant? Have you ever thought about safety and health in your workplace?
As organization, especially as employer, you are responsible for safety in the workplace. You must make it safe for the people who work there, paid or unpaid, as employee or as contractor. If that is not possible, you must do everything you can to decrease safety risks. This can be through safety measures as well as through instructions. Instructions alone are not enough; you must also monitor that they are followed and give warnings and sanctions in case they are not.
Similarly, you are responsible for following relevant health regulations. So that people who come to your soup kitchen, for instance, are not going to suffer from food poisoning as a result from bad hygiene and such. Many nonprofits of course do not have such kind of operations. Still, health regulations may apply to the conditions in your workplace for instance in regard of having proper chairs, desks, equipment, windows and so on. For instance, in the Netherlands, the so-called Arbowet regulates this.
Another area of focus when it comes to health is mental health. Think of burn out, but also bullying and harassment. These issues are getting more and more attention, and rightly so in my view.
Finally, some nonprofits invest in promoting a healthy lifestyle to their staff, by for instance organizing reduced prices at local gyms, providing free fruit, or by contributing to the purchase of a bicycle for the home-work-home commute.
Why do all this? The simple answer is, because you must comply with legal obligations. Most nonprofits, however, do more than that, out of care for their team. As you probably know from your own experience, people who are involved in nonprofits tend to work more than required and often, more than is healthy. They feel they are needed and are not always good at using their annual leave days, for instance. The least an organization, especially in the role of employer, can do is to invest where possible in a good and healthy work situation for their team. While salaries justifiably cannot be as high as in other sectors, you can be a good employer and invest in good conditions for the work and a healthy work environment.
Identify health and safety risks in your workplace and operations
Before you start looking into what legal obligations apply, take a good look at your workplace and operations. What kind of risks can you identify there? Do you have dangerous equipment? Or a rickety balcony? Do you serve food or provide another service that requires hygiene? Does your staff travel to risk areas, in terms of health or violence? Does your team spend a lot of time at their computer? Make a list of all these real risks and dangers that your team and your beneficiaries face in your workplace or during your service provision.
Find out what legal obligations you have
Once you know what the risks and dangers are, go look for applicable regulations and laws around health and safety. Find out what your precise obligations and responsibilities as employer, as owner or renter of the premises, or as operator of certain service provision are. Make a clear list.
Research out what measures you are expected to take
Now you know what laws and regulations apply and what specific risks and dangers you need to address. So now you need to find out what measures you must take to address these risks and dangers. Sometimes this is clear from the regulations, or it is clear from the situation. Remember that measures include both concrete interventions to eliminate or minimize the risk or danger as well as instructions for the team. It is important that your instructions are really clear. And that you follow up with monitoring and warnings and sanctions in case of non-compliance. So that you underline the importance of following the instructions. If you need inspiration, go and ask organizations facing similar risks and dangers and see what they do to address them.
Look at your team
Once you have all compliance issues covered, you may want to look more deeply at your team and organization. Does it seem that workload or work pressure is unreasonably high? Do you see a lot of sick leave taken? Are people skipping workouts, social engagements or hobbies due to work? How is the atmosphere in your team? What is the organizational culture like? Do you get a sense that some people are perhaps bullying others? In addition to you looking at this, ask your team! Create a survey and ask them about health issues, organizational culture, bullying and harassment, and happiness at work. Once the results are clear, set up a meeting with your team to discuss possible actions to improve the situation.
All this may sound very sophisticated and expensive. And perhaps some of the safety measures are costly, depending on your situation. If that is making you hesitate to do investments in compliance, think about what liability would cost you in case of an accident or mishap. And what this would cost you in terms of credibility as a professional nonprofit?
As for addressing issues of organizational culture, bullying and happiness, think about what it means to you to be a good employer. How would you like people to feel in a workplace you are responsible for? What is it worth to you to have your team feeling happy & healthy and every day eager to get to work?
Have you seen my checklists?
If you are interested in checking all areas of agreement between you and a staff member and in organizing your staff files, you can get my free Staff File Completeness Checklist here.
If you are interested in learning more about the legal aspects in differentiating between employees and contractors, get my free Contracting Checklist here.
Want to know more and ask questions?
If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!
Here is how you can join my free Facebook group
You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.