Personal Injury: The VIP Program

We who voluntarily construct and maintain public hiking trails are well aware of the physical nature of our avocation as well as of the tools we use. One thing we don’t often think of is what use need to do if we’re injured.

Crew Safety

PATC volunteers provide thousands of hours of work for the National Parks and Forests. Some of this work such as trail, boundary, shelter and cabin maintenance requires the use of heavy and often sharp tools and carries the risk of injury. Congress passed the Volunteers in Park Act (VIP) in 1969 and the Volunteers in National Forests Act in 1972 (VIF) to provide injury or illness compensation and other protection for volunteers working in the National Parks and Forests. To be covered, volunteers have to be authorized as such by the USFS or NPS. Both agencies use Form 301A—Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Agencies—to authorize individual or group volunteer work and coverage. As members of a recognized partner organization, the NPS and USFS also authorize PATC volunteers under group agreement (Form 1800-8) with the Club. An overarching 301A reflecting will be signed by the club president or his delegated representative each time a MOU with the NPS or USFS is signed or renewed. When working on NPS or USFS land where PATC does not have a formal MOU and is not therefore an authorized NPS or USFS partner, a separate 301A form for each individual work trip must be filed with the appropriate agency to ensure VIF/VIP coverage. Crews or individuals working on the AT corridor fall under the APPO and are included in the ATC’s agreement with the NPS.

Scope

This policy applies to all members and non-members who participate in crew work trips and to individual District Managers, Trail/Shelter/Cabin Overseers, Ridge Runners and Corridor Managers working within the confines of National Park Service or United States Forest Service lands, to include Appalachian Trail (AT) Corridor. Volunteers must work within the scope of their volunteer agreement, which includes following basic safety practices. This includes participating in a daily pre-work safety briefing (tailgate safety session), using all required personal protective equipment (PPE), and obtaining required training and certifications for specific tasks, i.e., chain saw or crosscut saw operation. (AT Volunteer Injury Instructions, ATC version 01 June 2008) Failure to comply with the procedures outlined in this policy may result in a PATC crew work trip participant not being covered as volunteer under the VIP or VIF Acts, as outlined in the definition below. This policy does NOT cover hike leaders conducting hikes on behalf of PATC as they are not making a contribution to the parks or forests. PATC hike leaders conducting hikes on behalf of PATC are not covered by this policy.

Definitions

Volunteers

Under the VIP/VIF programs, volunteers are considered to be federal employees for purposes of:

  • Compensation for work-related injuries or illnesses under the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA);
  • Protection from tort claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act
  • Claims relating to damage or loss of volunteer personal property while performing volunteer service.

Volunteers are not considered federal employees for purposes of pay, benefits, retirement of unemployment compensation. Volunteers are not covered if injured during the drive to and from volunteer work, and they are not compensated for time lost on a paid job due to injury suffered as a volunteer. (AT Volunteer Injury Instructions, ATC version 01 June 2008)

Group agreement PATC volunteers are covered by a group agreement (Form 1800-8) between the Club and either the NPS or USFS. Workers must be listed in Club records as members or be listed as a participant in a Club work party by way of a roster. The roster should be completed prior to the start of a work trip and should be retained. It is considered an extension of the group agreement. (AT Volunteer Injury Instructions, ATC version 01 June 2008)
Crew work trip Crew work trips are organized and led by PATC members; participants can include PATC members and non-members. Numbers can vary depending on projects. Work includes but is not confined to trail, shelter and cabin construction and maintenance, blowdown removal, blazing, AT corridor monitoring weeding and invasive plant removal, log and rock work, rigging, tool maintenance and chain and crosscut saw operations.
A.T. Corridor The Appalachian Trail Corridor includes the Appalachian Trail itself and land falling within the exterior corridor boundaries of lands that were acquired to protect the Appalachian Trail and fall under the National Park Service.

Policy Statement

PATC volunteers, both members and non-members, participating in crew work trips and PATC members who as individual District Managers, Trail/Shelter/Cabin Overseers, Ridge Runners and Corridor Managers who are working within the confines NPS and USFS lands are eligible for coverage under the VIP and VIF programs. Volunteers, by definition, are federal employees provided coverage due to injury, illness or loss as outlined above in the definitions section.

Crew leaders and individual volunteers are responsible for following the procedures outlined in this policy to ensure coverage.

Responsibilities

Volunteers are responsible for:

  • Ensuring they have sufficient training and equipment to work safely and follow basic safety practices,
  • Ensuring their name and hours worked are recorded in work crew rosters,
  • Promptly reporting injury or illness that occurs while working on PATC work crews and fill out an accident (CA-1) or Illness (CA-2) report form as soon as possible, and
  • Knowing where to seek medical care it emergency treatment is required.

Work Crew Leaders are responsible for:

  • Identifying (pre-trip) the agency point of contact which has jurisdiction in the area where the work crew will be operating,
  • Identifying (pre-trip) the nearest facility for medical care if any injury or illness occurs,
  • Ensuring a complete roster of work crew is recorded with names and hours worked, and properly reported to PATC,
  • Conducting a pre-work safety brief prior to the start of any work by PATC work crews, and
  • Supervising their work crews and ensuring safe and effective operations.

Supervisor of Trails is responsible for:

  • Ensuring lists of National Parks and Forests covered by MOUs, those National Parks and Forests NOT covered by MOUs, and agency points of contact (office and phone number) to be utilized by trail crew leaders in case of an emergency are maintained and readily available to work crew leads on the PATC web site,
  • Working with the PATC President to ensure that MOUs are signed by agency partners in a timely manner to ensure PATC volunteers are accorded protection under the VIP and VIF programs, and
  • Maintaining and reviewing this policy.

PATC Trails Coordinator is responsible for:

  • Ensuring that a group agreement (Form 1800-8) is properly filed and maintained with the NPS and USFS,
  • Ensuring that Form 301A – Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Agencies, which authorizes individual or group volunteer work and coverage by PATC within the NPS and USFS, is signed by the President of PATC and submitted each time a MOU is signed or renewed with the respective agencies.

Procedures

Prior To Crew Work Trip

  1. It is the responsibility of the crew leader to work with PATC Trails Coordinator to determine whether the location of the work trip is covered under an existing group agreement or is within the AT corridor. If the location is within an area of NPS or USFS lands not covered by an MOU with the Club, then a separate Form 301A will need to be completed and submitted to the appropriate agency by the crew leader.
  2. Crew leaders WILL compile a crew roster prior to or at the start of the work trip. This roster should be retained as it is considered an extension of the group agreement. The roster should include the names of the club members on the crew and the names and addresses of any non-club members. It should also include the names and addresses of minors even if parents are club members. Minors should have signed parental permission unless accompanied by a parent. The one exception is if the minor is participating under the auspices of another organization such as the Boy or Girl Scouts. If a non-club member is a regular participant on club work trips—more than three times a year—he or she should file an individual 301A form to ensure coverage. Club membership is an obvious advantage here and should be encouraged.
  3. To ensure VIP/VIF compliance and coverage, crew leaders WILL begin every work trip with a tailgate safety talk. This is a NPS, USFS and ATC requirement. This is to ensure good practices and that volunteers work within the scope of the club’s agreements with the NPS and USFS covering safety equipment, certification, and training. A pre-trip safety checklist is available online at the club website. Good references for the tailgate safety talk are the USFS’s Watch Out! Possible Hazards and the ATC’s Trail Maintenance and Construction Task, Their Hazards and Recommended Safety Gear available online at the club website along with a tailgate safety discussion form. Crew leaders WILL fill out and retain a copy of this form for each trip. Crew leaders should also be familiar with and follow relevant USFS and NPS Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) requirements. (ATC’s 2008 Trails Maintenance and Construction Tasks, Their Hazards and Recommended Safety Gear).
  4. Crew leaders should identify the location of the nearest medical facilities and emergency services and the NPS, USFS and local emergency service phone numbers.
  5. Crew leaders should download and print copies of the following documents and have them available on each work trip:
    • Form 301A – Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Agencies
    • Form CA-1: Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation
    • Form CA-2: Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation
    • Pre-trip safety Checklist
    • Tailgate Safety Discussion form
    • ATC’s Trail Maintenance and Construction Task, Their Hazards and Recommended Safety Gear
    • Participant/Attendee Roster
    • Form CA-16: Authorization for Exam or Treatment
    • PATC Incident Report

In the event of an injury or illness, the volunteer or crew leader should:

  • Get immediate care and first aid.
  • Seek emergency treatment by a medical provider, if needed. If the volunteer wants to use VIF/VIP coverage, the medical facility should be informed and given local USFS or NPS emergency contact information. Specific contacts should be known in advance, if possible.
  • Report injury or illness to the appropriate agency authorities—ideally before medical treatment is performed using Form CA-16: Authorization for Exam or Treatment—but as soon thereafter as possible.
  • Document injury with Form CA-1 or illness with Form CA-2; this should be filed with appropriate agency authorities within 48 hours of the injury or illness. VIF coverage is administered by each Ranger District in each National Forest; contact that district. VIP is administered by each Park; contact that Park; this includes national battlefields and Wolf Trap. Injuries incurred on the AT corridor should be reported to the AT Chief Ranger (PO Box 50, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425). A CA-1/CA-2 form should be filed even if the injured volunteer is using his or her own insurance or decides not to seek treatment right away.
  • A PATC Incident Report should also filed. Some federal partners only require the CA-1/CA-2 or PATC Incident Report but best to check with individual agency representatives. Filing the PATC incident report ensures an injured volunteer has access to club insurance coverage should it be needed.
  • Follow up with the appropriate agency and PATC.

Questions/Contacts

For further questions regarding this policy, please contact the PATC Supervisor of Lands or the Trails Management Coordinator. A copy of this policy is on file with the PATC Staff Director and can be located on the PATC web site under Club Documents | Forms.


This article quotes the PATC policy, PROTECTION OF PATC VOLUNTEERS UNDER THE VOLUNTEER IN PARKS (VIP) AND VOLUNTEER IN FORESTS (VIF) PROGRAMS, approved by Council and published effective May 12, 2015.