If your volunteers are injured, or if they injure anyone else, both you and your charity could be legally liable. There is a general duty of care on organisations, and on individuals, to avoid carelessly causing injury. In addition, Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act places a duty on employers and self-employed to conduct their undertakings in a way that ensures, so far as reasonably practicable, that people other than their employees (e.g. voluntary workers, clients, customers and members of the public) are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
As chief executive and someone who takes part in setting policies and procedures within the organisation, you have a duty of care under this.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general duties, which employers, the self-employed, and people in control of premises have to their employees, and others who could be affected by their work activities. Where an organisation has at least one paid employee anywhere in the organisation, it is considered to be an employer for the purpose of the health and safety act.
Parts of the act apply only to organisations with paid staff. Thus employers with five staff or more are obliged to have a written health and safety policy and organisations are required to carry out risk assessments.
Breach of many provisions of the act is a criminal offence, for which senior staff may be prosecuted. If the employer is a corporate body, then the directors may be personally liable. In breaches of section 37.1 Offences by Bodies Corporate may apply "Where an offence under any relevant statutory provisions committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with consent or connivance of, or to have been attributed to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly."
Irrespective of the legal complexities, good practice and equal opportunities demand that you treat the health and safety of volunteers as seriously as that of employees. All health and safety policies and practices should apply equally to volunteers and paid staff, whether or not legally required.
- Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.