Volunteer Risk Management Guide

What is risk management?

Risk management procedures are in place to assess, manage, or mitigate potential risks to the volunteers, the organization and its clients, members and participants that may result from the delivery of a volunteer-led program or service.  Source: Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement

As members of the Queen's University community, volunteers and staff share responsibility for contributing to the university's success. A proactive, thoughtful approach to risk mitigation is an important means through which we can all help to uphold Queen's values and reputation.

Please talk to your staff partner about the most appropriate risk mitigation strategies for your volunteer group or event.

What are the goals of risk management?

  • To reduce or mitigate the potential for adverse conditions to take place
  • To reduce anxiety about risk
  • To operate legally (protection against lawsuits, etc.)
  • To fulfill social responsibilities
  • To protect and uphold the university's values and reputation

Liability and Insurance Coverage for Queen's Volunteers

All persons who perform duties for the University, whether volunteers, students, or employees, are protected by the University's insurance for claims against them or Queen's arising out of the work they perform, providing the work is being performed on behalf of Queen's and has been approved by [an appropriate staff administrator].

Planning Documents

The following templates will help you assess and plan for risk in your volunteer activities.

External Risk Management Resources

Below is a list of suggested resources and reading material for those wishing to expand their Risk Management knowledge-base.

Developing a Risk Management Strategy (PDF) is a free publication from Imagine Canada and the Knowledge Development Canada Volunteerism Initiative that provides an overview of five main steps to risk management in Non-profit and Charitable organizations

Better Safe: Risk Management in Volunteer Programs and Community Service is a comprehensive best practice guide for managing risk within volunteer organizations.

Nonprofit Risk Management Centre is dedicated to helping nonprofit leaders cope with uncertainty through a wide range of services and tools. Visit their Library for links to an extensive list of free articles and fact sheets on Risk Management, and check out their Books section for suggested further reading.


Managing Risks at Events

The following are examples of questions to help identify and address any potential risks or hazards at your event. Depending on the size, scope, and type of event, these may or may not be applicable for your planning process.

*Most importantly, always document all steps taken before, during, and after an event*

Accessibility & Special Needs Groups
  • Are there particular arrangements that need to be made for a certain group (Eg: children) or are there accessibility-related concerns that need to be addressed? (Eg: wheelchair ramps, assistive listening devices etc)


  • How many people do you expect to attend? What is the site capacity? 
  • Are means of access and egress available?
  • If you will be providing alcohol, is the venue licensed?
  • If not, have you obtained a relevant liquor license? Are servers Smart Serve trained? What protocol will be used for underage guests? (Eg: ID checks, wristbands, etc).
  • How do you plan to deal with intoxicated guests? (Eg: taxi chits, security, etc.)


  • Are there established procedures for event postponement or cancellation?
    Who decides to cancel or postpone?
  • How would this decision be communicated to event personnel, those en route or those already present?
  • Will tickets be refunded?  How and when will refunds be issued?
Electrical Power
  • Is there sufficient power?
  • Are all electrical and lighting equipment in good condition and within their test date?
  • Are there any overhead power lines or cables?
  • Have any long cables been taped down to avoid tripping hazards?
Facilities Provision
  • Are venue facilities in good (safe) working order? (Eg: toilets, washing facilities, water supplies, wastewater disposal, rubbish bins etc.)
Fire safety
  • Are flammable liquids, LPG or other gasses being (eg: in catering or in other demonstrations) being handled in a safe and appropriate manner?
  • If using a generator, is adequate screening and protection in place, and is fuel being stored appropriately?
  • Are fire extinguishers available in accessible positions near to high-risk areas?



  • Are you be using a licensed caterer? If not, have relevant licenses been obtained? 


 Health and Safety issues
  • Have contractors, exhibitors, and vendors submitted appropriate health and safety policies, risk assessments and/or method statements?
  • Many off-campus events require a special Queen's insurance form.
  • Does your venue require proof of liability coverage?


  • Please talk to your staff partner for more details.

Major incident/ safety plan

  • What is the worst case scenario for your event? 
  • What provisions need to be made for emergency services? 
  • What will be the procedure for summoning assistance? 
  • How will emergency services get into and out of the site?  
  • Who is responsible for first response/ first aid supplies on-site? (Ideally, more than one event organizer should be trained in first aid.)


  • How will you communicate with organizers in an emergency, and how will they be distinguished? 
  • How will you communicate with the crowd, exhibitors etc? 
  • Are direction/information signs required?

Physical Activity

  • If your event includes any high-risk physical activity, is any specific training required? (First aid/CPR/http://queensu.ca/security/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.cseswww/files/fil...
  • Is medical equipment easily accessible and in good condition? (Eg: defibrillators) 
  • Have participants signed necessary liability waivers/ documentation, and provided emergency medical info/contacts?
  •  Are your promotional materials in line with the QUAA Brand Standards?
  • Will the media be present? Who will be the media contact/liaison? 
  • Are there controversial issues that could arise, and if so, how will you deal with them?


  • What needs to be secured? (Eg: attendees, vendors, event personnel, equipment, personal belongings, performers, revenue, merchandise, image).  
  • Who will be responsible for handling cash?
  • Is the use of a professional security company required?
  • Is a plan in place for crowd control? The venue site map should identify all exits and entrances, first-aid stations, temporary structures, beer gardens, barricades/pylons/fencing, portable washrooms, fireworks, emergency vehicle access, food/merchandise vendors, etc.
  • Does a policy exist to allow for removal of patrons that may harm others?
Speaker / Entertainment Cancellation
  • Do you have a back-up plan in case your guest speaker or entertainment has to cancel at the last minute?

Traffic Control

  • Are road closures required? 
  • What traffic routes will be needed? 
  • What effect will the event have on traffic passing the site or on local parking? 
  • What parking facilities and vehicle access is available, not only on the day of the event but before and after? 
  • Will large vehicles need to access the space? 
  • Are any parts of the site unsuitable for vehicular traffic because of soft or uneven ground?


  • If your event involves travel, what mode of transportation has been arranged? Note: if you are renting a vehicle, check with your staff partner to see what university policy will and will not cover.
  • Will transportation be provided to and from the event? This is particularly important to consider when planning events where attendees will be consuming alcohol.
  • Consider assigning "bus captains" to ensure all riders behave in a safe and responsible manner.  Bus captains must agree to remain sober before and during the event.
  • Are there accessible parking spaces/ access? Will special parking passes be provided to VIPs/ media etc?
  • How many volunteers are required to ensure your event runs smoothly and safely?
  • Have volunteers been properly briefed, with clear expectations as to their responsibilities, lines of authority, emergency management protocol and time commitment? 
  • Ideally, each volunteer role should have a formal position description which they sign before the event. 
  • Are contingency plans in place in case volunteers don't show up for their shifts? 
  • Have volunteers been asked to provide emergency contact info?

Waste Management

  • How will waste be managed during set-up and tear-down? What type of receptacles are to be used? 
  • How and when will they be emptied and by whom? 
  • Designate a member of your group to be responsible for ensuring the site is left clean and tidy.


  •  If your event is being held outdoors, do you have a contingency plan in case of rain, snow etc? 
  • Is a power failure possible? 
  • Have arrangements been made for back-up sound equipment and electrical generators?