image of volunteer to illustrate article protecting the health and safety of volunteers

Protecting the health and safety of volunteers – what you need to know.

Protecting the health and safety of your volunteers is vitally important. Not only do we have a legal duty of care towards volunteers, just as we would any other type of worker, we also have a moral duty of care to protect those individuals who give up their free time to help out when they can.

A recent article in the IOSH Magazine has highlighted the importance of protecting volunteers safety after some recent prosecutions brought about after volunteers have been hurt.

Does health and safety legislation apply to volunteers?

This isn’t a clear-cut yes or no answer, but if we start from a default position of ‘YES’ then you won’t go far wrong.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and regulations enacted under it applies to your organisation if you have at least one employee. The duties under the act apply to both your organisations employees and anyone who may be affected by your organisations activities – that certainly includes volunteers.

image of health and safety law documentto illustrate article protecting the health and safety of volunteers

If your organisation has no direct employees, the Health and Safety at Work Act may still apply – for example, if your volunteers are in control of a non-domestic premises (eg village hall) or buys-in or controls construction work then health and safety law applies.

If your organisation has no employees and is run solely by volunteers then the Health and Safety at Work Act will not normally apply to you. This means that you are not subject to criminal law in fulfilling your health and safety duties, however you will still have duties under civil law.

Voluntary organisations and individuals who are volunteering have a duty of care under civil law to protect themselves or anyone else who may be affected by their activities. This duty of care, and meeting that duty, largely reflects the requirements of health and safety law. So even if your organisation is not covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act, by complying with it requirements and the requirements of those regulations made under the act, you will – in the vast majority of cases – be discharging your duty of care.

Remember – a breach of the Health and Safety at Work act is a criminal offence, and those that breach the act can be subject to fines and / or imprisonment. Breaching your duty of care is a civil offence, and breaching your duty may result in an injured party suing for damages through the civil courts and may result in you having to pay compensation.

Managing risks to volunteers

image risk spelled out in wooden blocks to illustrate article protecting the health and safety of volunteers

The best way to manage risks to your volunteers is to treat them just like any other employee of any other organisation.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, organisations need to have the following in place:

  • Health and Safety Policy
  • Arrangements for putting your policy into practice
  • Risk assessments, identify all risks to your people and what you need to do to control those risks
  • Emergency plans, such as first aid arrangements, fire plans, accident reporting and investigation, etc
  • Consultation with your employees and / or volunteers to give them opportunity to comment and feedback on your health and safety arrangements
  • Health and safety training, where needed.

All organisations, no matter what their size, are expected to have these in place. If you have 5 or more employees you must have these written down. However it is best practise for organisations to have all these arrangements documented no matter what their size – particularly in the voluntary sector where you may only have one or two employees but a large army of volunteers.

Do I need to report incidents involving volunteers?

Another question with no straightforward yes or no answer! The RIDDOR regs (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations 2013) sets out what needs to be reported and what doesn’t, and there is some clear guidance from the HSE:

  • Fatal accidents involving volunteers are always reportable (unless they involve a road traffic accident)
  • Non-fatal incidents involving volunteers are reportable when the accident arises from work-activity, and the volunteer is taken straight from the scene of the incident to hospital for treatment.

Unlike for employees, there is no requirement to report over-7-day injuries to volunteers, as this only applies to employees.

image of person buried under cardboard boxes to illustrate article protecting the health and safety of volunteers

Before deciding if you need to submit a report to the HSE or Local Authority of a serious incident or injury, you will need to check the RIDDOR regs (or talk to your friendly H&S Consultant) to understand if RIDDOR applies in your precise circumstances.

So, what is the key message to take away.

Looking after the health and safety of your volunteers is paramount. People who freely give their time and efforts to help others will need to feel safe and protected while carrying out their activities. Managing health and safety and protecting your volunteers does not need to be an onerous task, and by taking time to put some simple health and safety measures in place you will make sure you protect your people, retain your volunteers, and have a positive impact on the reputation and performance of your voluntary organisation.

Want to talk about the simple things voluntary organisations can put in place to keep people safe?

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Who is your Health and Safety Hero?

Who is your Health and Safety Hero?

When looking for role models and examples of best practise, who is your health and safety hero?

We all need people to admire, to look up to, to take a lead from in all walks of life. It helps us to strive to be better, to push ourselves forwards and grow – the world of health and safety is just the same.

The launch of the British Safety Council International Safety Awards 2022 campaign on the 30th September 2022 will showcase some of the organisations and people who work continuously to improve the health, safety and wellbeing standards in their workplace, and recognise the heroes who are looking after our health and safety.

But you don’t need to win awards to be a health and safety hero – there are many unsung heroes out there doing the right thing and keeping us all safe and well.

Great examples of Health and Safety Heroes

Cartoon drawing of a health and safety hero

In my job as a H&S Consultant I get to talk to, and work with, many fabulous people and organisations. There are lots of people in my professional and personal networks that I view as Health and Safety Heroes, even though they are ‘just doing their jobs’.

Some examples I can think are given below – and some of my clients and contacts may actually recognise themselves from my descriptions, but I can’t sit and list all the great things everyone I know is doing so if you know me and I missed you out, I’m sorry!

Examples of my H&S heroes are:

  • the owner of a brand new business who wants to integrate managing health and safety into everything they do from day one, and holds managing safely as one of the core values of their business.
  • the Managing Director who wants to rip up the old Health and Safety Policy and Handbook that is written in stuffy, corporate language and replace it with a new policy and handbook that is written in the company voice so that it better reflects the companies values and makes it more accessible and meaningful to their people.
  • the organisations that recognise that the last 18 months have been really tough through the Covid-19 pandemic, and are allowing people to continue to work flexibly (where the job role allows) and take steps to give reassurance and ease any anxieties about a return to the workplace.
  • the operations director who want to make sure all the equipment, work areas and storage systems are all in great shape before a new big job starts and the workplace becomes very busy
  • the financial advisor who has started visiting their clients in their own home again, who has a Covid-19 protocol that they send to clients before the visit so the clients are reassured that risks around Covid-19 transmission are minimised
  • the bosses who makes sure they don’t overload their people with tonnes of work, or ask them to carry out work they are not trained for
  • the worker who see’s one of their workmates about to do something that is not quite right and steps in to help make sure the job is done in the safest way

I could go on forever with examples of great practice that makes loads of people my health and safety hero, but I think you get the idea by now.

Be your own Hero

Cartoon image of man looking in a mirror and seeing a superhero reflection to illustrate article who is your health and safety hero.

So, apart from wearing your underpants outside of your trousers, how do you become your own health and safety hero?

There are loads of small ways that stack-up for you be a hero.

  • hold keeping you and others safe and well as a core value – it is part of everything you are and everything you do.
  • set the standards you want to see – make sure you expect the same standards of yourself as you do from others
  • remember that you accept the standards that you are prepared to walk by – in other words, if you see an unsafe act, unsafe behaviour or unsafe situation and you do nothing about it you are saying that it is acceptable.
  • include talking about health, safety and wellbeing in all aspects of your working life – it’s not a separate subject, its just part of who we are and how we act.
  • use clear, jargon-free, simple language. You don’t even have to use the dreaded words ‘health and safety’
  • make sure you have two-way conversations about peoples health, safety and wellbeing. Nobody likes safety being ‘done to them’, allow people to have a voice, and if they do raise concerns and questions make sure you follow them up with meaningful answers.

The list can go on and on…….. I’m sure you’ve got some great examples of being your own hero.

And never forget, if you have any questions or concerns, you can always talk with your friendly health and safety professional for advice and support – not all heroes wear capes, sometimes we wear hi-vis!

Want to talk to your friendly health and safety professional?

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