Volunteers have always been an important resource in our aged care facilities. During the recent Covid pandemic, however, they were unfortunately not considered an essential resource, and were excluded from essential visitor lists. This exclusion, combined with healthcare workers and ancillary staff getting sick with Covid, led to an extreme staffing shortage. Now, as we all learn to live with Covid, the importance of volunteers is finally being realised.

In early 2022, the Australian Government announced their Re-Engaging Volunteers into Residential Aged Care Facilities Program. Created in response to Covid and the Royal Commission, the program offers support to facilities that want to engage volunteers to help.

However, we can’t just let our volunteers wander in and start ‘helping out’ – no, they need to have basic skills in workplace health and safety, especially infection control training. So how do we do this?

Government infection control training for volunteers

The Australian Government Department of Health have made free online training modules available. They encourage all staff, including volunteers, to maintain their IPC skills by completing these training modules. This is great for staff and volunteers who are computer literate, but for those who find computers daunting, we need another way of training them in IPC.

Delivering face-to-face education for volunteers

IPC training really needs to be face-to-face, especially for those staff and volunteers with English as a second language, or whose computer skills are very limited. So how do we provide this face-to-face IPC training, and what are the IPC essentials that are a must-know?

I have some ideas! Your volunteers could join your facility’s IPC training days and learn about the chain of infection, what standard precautions are and how these are implemented in the workplace. But this doesn’t need to be a comprehensive education session, it would just need to emphasise the relevant activities, such as when and how to perform hand hygiene (including practicing this), as well as when to wear PPE and how to don and doff!

You could also discuss good respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, and explain what a blood or body fluid exposure is, and how volunteers can protect themselves from bloodborne pathogen exposure. You could also touch on the safe handling and disposal of waste, and probably the basics of cleaning and disinfecting.

Infection control education for families

Your education program could extend to educate families as well as volunteers about transmission-based precautions. This will include another explanation about the chain of infection and how transmission of infection occurs, that is via contact, droplet and airborne routes. We need to teach them what precautions are in place at the time, and why they have been implemented, and how to protect themselves. A greater understanding of how these precautions keep them safe will hopefully lead to better compliance and a safer facility!

Tips for effective volunteer education

  • Keep material simple. Focus on volunteer safety and what they need to do to stay safe. Don’t get bogged down in theory.
  • Test their understanding in the education session. Ask them to demonstrate what you’ve just told them (so for hand hygiene, ask them to show you how they wash their hands).
  • Develop resources that they can take home or look at later, like a printed handout. It should make sense to someone who is seeing it for the first time, and not rely on information from the education session.

Keep knowledge fresh by refreshing

We all know that training once is not enough. Ideally refresher training should be offered every three months. However, everyone is time-poor, so developing information sheets on the basics of infection control and how to protect yourself with standard and transmission-based precautions would be helpful resources to leave around the place.

You may find that the government training resources are more than enough for your volunteer workforce. You may struggle to find training that explains enough and sticks. However the training is developed and delivered, what’s important is that we actually do it. Our volunteers and families are an important extension of our workforce, and they need to be trained, prepared and kept safe.

Bug Control know how hard it is to keep on top of infection control in aged care at the moment. If you want training material for your staff developed especially for aged care, sign up for Bug Control Membership today. Our online IPC education platform keeps track of staff training completion so that you don’t have to.