St Albans City Football and Athletic Club were recently fined for the July 2017 death of a volunteer working at their stadium. They were fined £1000 (plus £1000 in costs) after breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The 71-year-old volunteer fell through a fragile part of the roof, tragically dying from his injuries.
Most employers are well aware of their duty of care towards their employees. But are the rules different when it comes to voluntary workers?
The Law on Health and Safety for Volunteers
Volunteers play a vital role in the running of all kinds of organisations. Smaller not-for-profit operations often rely on their voluntary workers to function. Charities, sporting facilities, political parties and heritage sites are just some of the things that usually owe their existence to people who give up their own time to help.
"Health and safety" is sometimes wrongly blamed for preventing charitable events from taking place or putting up a barrier to voluntary work. This is inaccurate because many of the health and safety protections that are so important for workers' rights don't apply in the case of volunteers. However, it's true that all organisations have a common law duty of care towards them (and anyone else likely to be affected by their activities).
When the charity or organisation has employees, they should be empowered to ensure the safety of all volunteers. Key legislation like the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to any organisation that has at least one employee.
In short, all organisations should take all the necessary steps to make sure their volunteers go home safely at the end of their work.
Protecting your Voluntary Workers
Even when budgets are tight, there are ways to protect volunteers. If possible, make sure volunteers work in pairs or groups, or that somebody checks on them regularly. By minimising lone working, you're making sure voluntary workers can get medical assistance if they need it.
Conducting a risk assessment before any project that volunteers will work on can be a useful way of keeping track of the issues involved – and suitable control measures can deal with issues before they harm anyone. In some circumstances, it would be sensible to have a first aider on hand when volunteers are working.
The key is making sure everyone is properly trained for the tasks they're doing. If they're operating machinery, acting as a tour guide or making repairs to a site, this is especially important – but any job carries risk.
It's important to consider the personal safety of volunteers as well, especially if they're in direct contact with the public or meet people alone. If they're required to travel as part of their voluntary role, every step should be taken to make sure this is done in the safest way possible.
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