3. Include volunteers in your risk assessment

As an employer, you must carry out a risk assessment to identify significant risks to volunteers, as well as employees, 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.

You must include volunteers in your risk assessment. This will help you manage any risks that specifically apply to them.

You must consult employees and should also include volunteers in a two-way process to allow them to raise concerns and influence decisions on managing health and safety.

Our advice on how to do a risk assessment will help you identify the hazards in your workplace and put the right controls in place. There are examples of assessments covering typical workplaces and a template to help you complete your own.

Managing risks to volunteers

Most health and safety law sets out measures employers should take to protect employees. However, your preventive and protective measures should reflect the individual risks both employees and volunteers face in their respective roles. 

Good health and safety management is not a barrier to volunteering. It should help enable volunteering roles to be carried out safely and effectively. Risk assessment is not about eliminating all risk or generating a lot of paperwork, it is about taking practical steps to protect people from real harm.

Risk assessments should be sensible and proportionate to the level of risk involved in the activity. A sensible approach means focusing on significant risks with potential to cause real harm and suffering.

Many of the activities carried out by volunteers will be low risk. However, volunteers may also be involved in higher-risk activities such as:

Where the risk is higher, your risk assessment should be proportionate and consider the additional hazards that volunteers and employees may be exposed to. Our guidance pages contain information on specific topics and industries that may be relevant for higher-risk activities undertaken by volunteers.

Factors to consider if you engage volunteers

  • Plan and prepare your activity effectively so you know how volunteers will be deployed
  • Make sure your volunteers are covered by your insurance policy
  • Match the task to the individual by checking they have the capability to do the activity
  • Make sure effective supervision and monitoring arrangements are in place
  • Make sure accidents and near misses involving volunteers are recorded and followed up

Training and equipment

Volunteers must be provided with the right information, instruction and training to make sure they can carry out their activities safely. You should provide a full induction, including information on hazards they may be exposed to.

Provide appropriate tools and equipment (including personal protective equipment where required) and ensure volunteers are trained to use them safely. Ensure tools and equipment are regularly maintained and safely stored after use and advise volunteers to report any damage or defects promptly.

Examples of ways you can manage risks for volunteers

The following examples illustrate simple steps that you can take to effectively manage risks to volunteers. They may help you make the right decisions for your workplace and highlight further guidance if required.

Managing risk of slips and trips in a charity retail

An elderly volunteer broke their ankle after tripping over a box of donated goods in the sorting area at the rear of a charity shop, and was taken to hospital. The area was untidy with many boxes and items covering the floor and walkways.

This problem was resolved through improved housekeeping, ensuring walkways were kept clear with improved storage and shelves/racking provided to safely store boxes. Staff and volunteers were advised to check regularly for items on the floor and encouraged to report any issues to their manager. The shop also introduced measures to reduce the volume of donated goods to avoid the sorting area becoming cluttered.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to ensure that floors are kept clear of obstacles and have enough space to allow people to move about freely.

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Fatal fall through a fragile roof

A volunteer fell through a fragile roof while carrying out general maintenance, suffering fatal injuries. The employer did not have a system in place to authorise certain activities, and volunteers were inadequately supervised.

Recurrences were prevented by introducing a work log and signing-in system for volunteers and staff. This meant their activity could be monitored and supervised effectively. Signs were displayed to warn of the fragile roof and prevent unauthorised access. Volunteers were reminded that they should seek authorisation before starting any activities.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require employers to assess and control the risks from working at height and take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces.

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Preventing manual handling injuries in a charity retail

A volunteer injured their back while lifting a heavy box onto the top shelf of a storage rack. They didn't use the step ladder provided and stood on the lower shelf instead. They overreached, dropped the box and twisted their back.

This could have been prevented by not storing heavy items on high shelves and storing items in smaller quantities. Volunteers should be regularly trained in safe manual handling techniques.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) apply to any activity which involves lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying. They require employers to assess and control the risks and avoid hazardous manual handling wherever possible.

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Safe use of work equipment by volunteers

A volunteer cut their hand while working alone using electric hedge trimmers. They had not received any training on use of the equipment and had not been issued with any PPE.

This could have been prevented if they had been provided with the right information, instruction and training to carry out the activity safely. They should have received an induction before starting to cover any hazards they may be exposed to, and provided with PPE such as heavy duty gloves.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 require employers to ensure tools and equipment are used only by people who have received adequate information, instruction and training.

Where employers provide volunteers with work equipment while doing activities on their behalf, the employer will have duties under PUWER, even if the volunteers are not directly under their control. For example, if a conservation group made up entirely of volunteers is provided with equipment or tools by the local authority.

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Volunteers exposed to asbestos during renovation works

Volunteers demolished the wall of a community centre which was later found to contain asbestos insulation board. Because they had not been told asbestos was present, they used power tools to demolish the wall, leading to large amounts of asbestos fibres being released.

This could have been avoided if the work had been properly planned, supervised and monitored. The owners were aware asbestos was present but did not inform the team responsible for organising the activity. The asbestos should have been safely removed by licensed contractors before the demolition started.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012 place duties on those responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises to effectively manage the asbestos in them. They should provide information on where any asbestos is in the building and what condition it is in so they can avoid work that may disturb it.

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Volunteer trapped in machinery on a farm

A volunteer suffered fatal injuries after their hair and clothing became trapped in a machine, which was missing a cover for the drive shaft.

This could have been avoided if the machinery had been properly maintained and the volunteer had been adequately supervised and trained effectively.

Employers and the self-employed have a duty under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 to ensure that machinery is safe to use and fitted with appropriate safeguards to prevent access to dangerous moving parts.

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