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2. Health and safety law: Your duties to protect volunteers

When health and safety law applies

If your organisation has at least one employee, or if you are self-employed and employ others, you will have duties under health and safety law.

This means you must protect your employees but also others, including volunteers, from any risks arising from your work activities.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) protects employees and others who may be affected by work activities. This includes those volunteering for, or on behalf of your organisation. It is enforced by HSE or the local authorities depending on the location and type of the activity.

You must include volunteers, as well as employees, in your risk assessment to identify significant risks and implement effective control measures.

You should provide the same level of protection to volunteers where they carry out similar activities and are exposed to the same level of risk as employees.

When health and safety law does not apply

In most cases, health and safety law does not apply where volunteering does not involve an employer. However, there are some exceptions, such as where a volunteer:

  • is in control of non-domestic premises, such as a village or community hall
  • procures or controls construction work, for example if a village hall management committee employs a builder to carry out renovation work

When civil law applies

If you have volunteers carrying out activities for your organisation and you have no employees, then health and safety law will not normally apply to you. However, you may still have duties under civil law.

Under the common law, voluntary organisations and individual volunteers have a duty of care to each other and others who may be affected by their activities. Where something goes wrong, individuals may, in some cases, sue for damages using the civil law if they are injured as a result of another person's negligence.

You can find more information from HSE on criminal and civil law which will help you manage this risk, or from Citizens Advice.

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