This page provides guidance and tools to help those running sports clubs to understand what they may need to do to comply with workplace health and safety law.
This page does not cover general fire safety, sports grounds safety certificates, food safety/hygiene, permits and licensing, permissions for road closures, insurances or Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) checks, which are dealt with under different legislation and are regulated by other authorities. For further guidance on these matters, refer to the FAQs and ‘see also’ panel.
Health and safety laws should not be a barrier to organising and running amateur sports activities that are an important part of community life.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (‘the Act’) and the regulations made under it, apply to club organisers who are both employers and self employed. The law requires them to do what is reasonably practicable1 to ensure peoples health and safety.
The Act sets out the general duties that employers have towards their employees whilst at work. The Act also requires employers and the self-employed to protect people other than those at work eg volunteer staff like coaches, club members, visiting teams and spectators. These people should be protected from risks to their health and safety arising out of, or in connection with, their club’s work activities.
Health and safety law does not generally apply to volunteers running a club with no employees, unless the club has responsibility for premises like a clubhouse or playing fields.
Anyone (including volunteers) with control of premises like a clubhouse or playing fields has a duty to see that the premises, access to them and plant ( eg sports equipment) and substances provided are safe for the persons using them so far as is reasonably practicable1. Often this is a shared duty between the premises owner, a management committee and users.
The extent of a club’s legal duty will depend on the level of control it has over the premises and the type of plant or substances provided. For example, if your club owns or manages the premises, then you would be expected to keep the premises and any sports equipment provided in good repair. If your club uses sports equipment then you would be expected to take reasonable steps to check it is safe to use eg check goal posts are secure before a game so they won’t collapse and injure a player.
Health and safety law does not cover safety matters arising out of the sport or activity itself eg damaging a wrist during a boxing match or being injured following a bad tackle during football training. Note that a duty of care under the common (civil) law may apply.
Competitors/players taking part in competitions and/or training are generally subject to non-statutory rules set down by sports National Governing Bodies (NBGs). These rules will include topics like supervision (coaching staff to player ratios) and training, plus ‘in play’ emergency procedures and medical provision. Some of these rules and procedures may go beyond the requirements of workplace health and safety legislation. Most NGBs and networks are members of the Sport and Recreation Alliance.
1 Reasonably practicable: ‘This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk’