Balancing value of volunteers with risk management

Needing insurance is like needing a parachute. If it isn’t there the first time, chances are you won’t be needing it again.

South Dundas Clerk Brenda Brunt outlined the insurance issue for members of council at the October 4th South Dundas council meeting.

“In 2010 our insurance policy changed to not include blanket event insurance coverage for use of Township property. Our insurance carrier or any other does not have this type of coverage.”

In the document provided, she explained that there are “four separate groups that are required to have additional insurance while on Township property.”

“The first group is our outside suppliers such as contractors performing paving, sewer flushing, grass cutting, etc.”

“Secondly, facility rentals are comprised of two sections: non-alcoholic event and alcoholic event. The non-alcohol event can use their homeowners or tenant policy which covers their exposure.”

“The alcohol event requires a minimum of $2 million Commercial General Liability with a $500 deductible and includes injury to participants. Our previous blanket policy did not include injury to participants.”

Finally, there are the Special Events groups such as “Old Home Week, Tubiefest, Antiquefest, Applefest, Harvestfest, BIA Plaza Party” and so on.

Brunt told council that “our objective was to transfer risk away from the township. Our insurance agent thought we were practising good risk management.”

Deputy Mayor Jim Locke interjected saying that “since the last meeting I’ve spent a lot of time researching event insurance” and this is “not special to South Dundas.”

Brunt reported that “as public organizations with taxation power and ‘deep pockets’, municipalities have become targets of litigation when other defendants do not have the means to pay.”

Brunt provides an example of such a situation in her written  recommendation: “the bouncy castle jumping apparatus at Old Home Week – if there was an accident it would start with the owner’s insurance and then the event organizer’s insurance and then the Township. If the event organizer didn’t have insurance then it would go to the Township second. This would be bad risk management. Therefore, the Township is implementing good risk management practises that transfer the risk.”

Locke pointed out that the new policy “not only protects the township, but the organizers as well.”

“First we have to agree that there’s a need for this,” he continued and “down the road discuss how it’s funded.”

Councillor Jim Graham said that “our policy wasn’t put in place to deter volunteers. We all know the value of our volunteers.”

While Councillor Evonne Delegarde agreed that there’s “no question that we need proper insurance,” she also voiced concern about insurance “eating into (volunteer groups’) profits.”

She suggested that “perhaps there’s some way we can look at funding this for these groups” because they’re an “extremely important part of the township.”

She went on to emphasize that council “really has to pay attention to” the township’s volunteers.

In terms of the extra insurance for renting facilities, Delegarde said, “one of my concerns is that the facilities would not be rented.”

At this point, Councillor Archie Mellan remarked that “nobody likes insurance” and that “nothing would scare away a volunteer quicker” than “getting stung.”

He went on to say that “we’re doing this to be proactive for the township” because if the worst were to happen, “rates go up and that impacts our budgets,” which, in turn, impacts the volunteers and residents of South Dundas.

He pointed out that “we just need one claim and we’ll be glad we have” the policy in place.

Locke agreed that “it’s just doing due diligence” in that the policy is a “general benefit to the township (and) we are representing the people of the township.”

Mayor Steven Byvelds pointed out that other municipalities have “changed their way of doing things – not just us. They all say volunteers need to have insurance.”

“As much as we value our volunteers, we don’t want them” to face a lawsuit. 

“Next year, when we look at our donations (we can) see if that funding window will be increased.”

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