Church organisations have an obligation to keep people under their care and/or on their premises as safe as possible, in order to reduce the risk of injury or loss. Worship centres and church organisations are as vulnerable to liability risks and legal action as any other organisation that provides services to the public.
Failure to manage risk has the potential to result in personal injuries, damage to property, legal action and damages, fines, disruptions, loss of reputation, increased insurance costs or even voiding of insurance. As such it is vital that church organisations actively participate in their own risk management activities.
It’s also important to be aware that certain activities are excluded from cover; see the section below under ‘Exclusion activities’ for more information.
Vulnerable areas to consider:
- Unsafe premises – such as damaged steps, unstable furniture, wet floors, obstructions, poor lighting, potholes in outside areas, fallen branches, poor electrical or fire safety, inadequate roof maintenance.
- Food poisoning – see our article on food safety here for more information.
- Volunteers – matters to consider here include proper selection and training of volunteers and providing written instructions and procedures.
- Employee safety – this is not covered by CCI and individual churches may need to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. See our separate article about this.
- Vicarious liability – where the church is held liable for the actions of its employees.
- Employment practices – such as discrimination, wrongful dismissal, and harassment.
- Sexual misconduct – this can be mitigated by proper screening of personnel, especially those who work with children and young people.
- Events and activities – including child and youth camps or excursions.
- Children’s playground equipment safety.
- Other issues – including social media risks, automobile safety, slander, and invasion of privacy.
Risk reduction / risk management for churches
To reduce your risk level, it’s essential to have a comprehensive risk-management program in place.
Your risk-management program should include the following:
- Identify the hazards which may lead to harm or damage, and eliminate them if possible.
- If a hazard cannot be totally eliminated, reduce the risk through regular property inspections and maintenance, careful selection of employees and motor vehicle drivers, development of social media policies, ensuring safe food handling practices and so forth.
- Cooperate with your insurance provider. Insurance is a two-way street and insurers want to know you are making an effort to reduce your risk level and that you are not behaving negligently in any way.
Certain high-risk activities that are considered to be ‘hazardous pursuits’ are excluded from cover under General Liability insurance. These include:
- Motor races, rallies, and speed tests.
- Outdoor activities such as canyoning and caving, shooting, hang gliding, parachuting and paragliding, white water rafting and canoeing above Class 2 rapids, scuba diving, bungee jumping, and hot air ballooning.
- Various other activities such as gladiator games, unsupported rock climbing, go-karts, motor-cross, martial arts, boxing, and mechanical rides (other than ground-based slow-speed rides designed for young children).
Avoid having a claim denied!
In some specific instances, insurance claims may be denied.
In cases of sexual abuse for instance, CCI will not provide cover for legal liability where the insured knew or ought to have known that the perpetrator had a history of offending.
Church organisations also run the risk of having a claim denied if they have not kept up roof maintenance on their buildings. See our separate article here on roof maintenance.
Our Redbook program is designed to make risk management easier for our churches. Redbook provides your church with a tailored manual for you to follow in order to meet the ‘essential safety measures’ defined by the BCA (Building Codes Australia). You can find out more about Redbook here.
Our website contains a number of other articles on property risk management, workplace health and safety, and people protection which can be accessed from here.
Training on risk-management and safety for your organisation can be done through our short induction courses, which can be accessed from our website training page.
Written by Tess Oliver