Protecting volunteers in charity shops and fundraising

Many charities involve volunteers in their shops and during fundraising events or activities. If your charity has at least one employee then you will have duties under health safety law.

This advice will help you manage the health and safety of volunteers. It explains how you can prevent typical injuries and includes case studies of how other people have successfully managed the risks.

Charity retail

Charity retail has the same health and safety risks as commercial shops, for example customer access and fire safety. However, there are some important differences:

  • shops are often managed solely by volunteers (many only volunteering a few hours a week). This has an impact on volunteer availability, for example training and communication
  • stocks generally come from donated goods that are then sold to the public, so there is no control over what is donated, how much and when

Risk assessment

You must carry out a risk assessment to identify risks to volunteers, as well as employees, and put in place control measures to reduce these.

The example risk assessment for a shop will help you identify typical hazards and ways to control them. There is a template to help you record the risks and any control measures you have put in place.

Vulnerable volunteers

Many volunteers who volunteer in charity retail will be vulnerable workers so you must ensure you protect:

  • older volunteers
  • volunteers with disabilities
  • work experience students
  • lone workers and volunteers

There is more advice on managing risks in shops in our Health and safety in the retail industry pages, including:

When making your assessment it can be useful to identify risks in different areas, such as the rear (non-public) part of the shop, and the front display (public) area.

Rear shop area

There are some common health and safety risks associated with rear areas of charity shops where donated goods are sorted, prepared for sale and stored. A combination of limited space and regular stock arriving can cause a cramped environment:

  • Take measures to avoid slips, trips and falls, manual handling injuries due to poor posture, moving heavy goods, bending and twisting, and working at ground level
  • Sort donated goods carefully to prevent cuts or puncture wounds, from hypodermic needles and other sharp objects, or contamination from soiled goods
  • Use and store stock and equipment carefully to avoid injuries, for example by items falling from a height or causing fires by being stored on or above heaters
  • Provide a safe working environment - with proper lighting, temperature (heating etc) and ventilation. Ensure premises are well maintained and have the right welfare facilities (eg food and drink area, toilets)

Front shop area

Take account of loose items, such as donated goods, left on the floor leading to trips etc, and access to dangerous display items (eg knives, knitting needles), especially by children.

We have an example of how you can manage risks to volunteers in charity shops.

Fundraising events

While your charity or voluntary organisation may have control over its own fundraising events, you should also consider whether any volunteers are planning to 'do their own thing' without you having any input or control.

Volunteers who organise community fundraising events without the involvement of an employer, charity or voluntary organisation will not generally have duties under health and safety law. However, they may have duties under civil law.

Cabinet Office have produced a 'Can do' guide which provides advice for volunteers organising community events.

If you are an employer, you must carry out a risk assessment in the pre-planning stages of every fundraising event. You can find examples of the issues to consider on our event safety pages. These include:

  • emergency plans, eg fire, first aid, evacuation of area and accident reporting
  • traffic control, particularly if people and vehicles are in the same area
  • disabled access and services
  • equipment needed, eg tables, gas cylinders
  • services needed, eg electricity, water, sound, lighting