Don’t wait until a volunteer sues: Most organizations require volunteers to show proof of travel medical insurance prior to traveling or participating overseas
Traveling overseas to volunteer can be an enriching life experience. It can also put volunteers at risk, either by accidents, sicknesses, or injuries sustained while volunteering. And you don’t want to see a volunteer sue to recover damages. We have known at least one volunteer who was even stepped on by an elephant while overseas. And this puts organizations at risk, because attorneys will encourage a volunteer to sue your organization, even if the individual signed a waiver. If you have a D&O (Directors and Officers) policy, taking these simple steps will also help keep your claims (and annual renewal costs) low.
As an organization, your duty to volunteers includes: Adequate training, information, recommendations and requirements, supervision, financial and health provisions/protections, emergency communications and planning, and taking steps to ensure the same.
This duty to workers and volunteers is covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act of 1970 (USA) or the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (UK). Potential risks are covered under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, under the Code of Federal Regulations 29 Standard 1910.38 (USA) or Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (UK), and these should also be provided, in writing, to volunteers. Failure to do so could provide legal cause for liability due to negligence. This includes either recommending, or requiring proof of, overseas medical coverage. While volunteers serving a non-profit are protected if they accidentally cause harm under the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, organizations themselves are not generally covered against liability either for volunteer workers or those they serve overseas. Your attorney can better help you understand your “Duty of Care” to your volunteers and overseas staff.
Unfortunately, travel seems to be a blind spot when it comes to Duty of Care, compared to health and safety procedures in the permanent workplace. The loss of goodwill (when an organization doesn’t take adequate steps to protect overseas workers and volunteers) is another area sadly neglected.
That’s why we help organizations (large and small) set up customized plans and pages to protect both their group and their volunteers, by making it easy to apply for, and secure, the right overseas medical and emergency evacuation insurance prior to their departure. At approx. $1.00-2.00 a day (depending on the age of the volunteer, and the coverage amount you select), you have the added assurance of knowing that your volunteers have the right type of insurance at minimum set amounts, and YOU HAVE the contact name and policy name at the ready, were anything to happen.
Problems with allowing volunteers to secure their own insurance:
- Some volunteers might buy trip cancellation insurance which is different, and often has minimal medical coverage (some policies may or may not include emergency evacuation)
“Trip cancellation insurance” is a hedge against losing prepaid money in case you have to cancel a trip prior to departure. It does NOT take the place of a good travel medical insurance policy overseas.
- Some volunteers may assume their domestic health insurance will cover them. They may even be told that by insurance representatives. However it is very rare that a domestic policy will cover emergency medical transportation or return of remains or other important travel protections (and often the insurance coverage is only in cases “of life-and-death”).
- Some volunteers may get inadequate insurance from a “fly-by-night” company. Then you, or someone else, has to verify that coverage and its adequacy, or your organization might still face a lawsuit.
- The rest of your volunteers will buy good overseas insurance policies, but you and your team leaders/group organizers may not know who to contact in an emergency, and will have to keep records of each travelers insurance documentation on file, rather than having one number to call.
It’s really much easier to plan ahead by contracting with one company, and then letting groups of volunteers know how to apply on your own custom-designed and branded page ( set up for you at no cost). It’s one way we’ve been taking care of hundreds of groups, just like yours — Making sure they are protected, and their volunteers are being cared for.
Having a group policy (or short-term team page) is one more way to ease confusion, making the process for volunteers easier, rather than having them shop on their own, and not know exactly what they are looking for, since you are pre-selecting the plans and options available to them.
This issue is SO IMPORTANT that we have written an open letter here to address it.
Call us today if we can answer any questions, or if we can help you choose a plan for your volunteers!