Health and safety

All organisations have a duty of care to protect their volunteers from harm. Failure to meet that duty could result in the organisation and its trustees being liable if a volunteer is injured as a result. This sheet outlines some of the basic information that you need to know in relation to health and safety for volunteers.

For more information see risk toolkit: how to take care of risk in volunteering. 


Health and safety policies

Much of health and safety legislation is designed to protect workers and employees and does not cover volunteers. It is hard to imagine a situation however where it would be justifiable to treat volunteers in a less favourable manner than paid staff even if it were possible to do so whilst maintaining a duty of care. The publication volunteers and the law explains this in more detail. For this reason volunteers should be included in an organisations’ health and safety policy.


Risk assessment

To demonstrate that you have exercised your duty of care you will need to assess any potential risks that volunteers may encounter and take the necessary steps to minimise them.


Carrying out a risk assessment

The health and safety executive recommends a 5 step approach to risk assessment

  1. Look for the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. For each hazard, evaluate the chance, big or small, of harm actually being done and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or more should be done
  4. Record the significant findings of your risk assessment, eg the main risks and the measures you have taken to deal with them
  5. Review your assessment from time to time and revise if necessary

The easiest and most systematic way to carry out a risk assessment and record your findings is to use a risk matrix table. This will help you to calculate the likelihood and seriousness of any risks. An example can be found in the useful documents section.

Carrying out a risk assessment requires a detailed knowledge of your organisations activities.  Involving staff and volunteers in the process will give you an accurate picture of your working practices. The risks for example of volunteers visiting people in their homes are very different from those of working in an office environment.


What can be done to minimise risk?

This will depend on the nature of the hazard. You may need to:

  • Give information and training to volunteers
  • Introduce more supervision
  • Introduce different working practices
  • Use protective clothing or equipment
  • Stop the activity altogether