healthier if I volunteer? That's the message on the front page of our state newspaper this morning.
The claim is that a study in the United States has shown that people who are volunteers are happier and healthier than other people. I would like to know a great deal more about that study before I made the claim. It might be that happy and healthy people volunteer, not that volunteering makes you happy and healthy. It might be a little of both. There may - or may not be - mental and physical health benefits. I do not know.
I do know that it is getting harder for organisations here to find volunteers. The places I know which rely on volunteers almost all have ageing volunteers. Our local charity shops, the community centre, the library, schools and elsewhere all suffer.
Part of the problem is that there is no longer a pool of "stay at home mums" to rely on - the people who used to staff the school canteens, do Meals on Wheels, take elderly neighbours shopping etc.
The other part of the problem is that it is now much more difficult to volunteer. You do not just turn up and offer to help. You require a police certificate - for which you have to pay and pay to keep updated in some cases. The police certificate is fair enough if you are in close contact with people or handle other people's money etc but paying for it is something many people object to doing.
Then there is the training aspect. You have to attend "occupational health and safety" courses for almost everything. Where you once turned up at the school canteen, donned an apron and gave your hands a thorough wash you now have to attend a course on how hot the water has to be and how long you must wash your hands. I do not think they tell you how to tie your apron strings. My late mother was volunteering at the Red Cross Blood Bank canteen at the beginning of this OHS business. They did a morning. The course has grown longer - and longer. You have to "upgrade" and attend "refresher" courses.
I do not volunteer anywhere on a regular basis. I simply do not have the time to attend multiple OHS courses - courses I could teach. One local charity shop can call me if someone comes in needing the sort of help which involves filling out forms etc. The elderly people along my pedalling route know they can leave a little signal at their letter box if they want me to pick up a prescription or do a little shopping. It is, I hope, just as useful a way of doing some practical service to the local community.
I am waiting for the local OHS police to tell me I must cease doing that - although I do not know on what grounds. I am waiting for national OHS to tell me I must cease doing my job for fear I use a wrong word somewhere and cause an international incident - or perhaps they will insist on me doing a course? What sort of course?
There are all sorts of courses everywhere for everyone who wants to volunteer. It is important for people to be able to volunteer safely and with due regard for the safety of others but an entire new industry has sprung up - along with a much greater awareness of the capacity for litigation.
It is preventing people from offering to help and others from accepting their services.