Volunteer Health and Safety Assessment

An organisation that employs at least one individual is required to manage its Health and Safety regardless of whether the organisation is public, private or voluntary.

Organisations/groups that are entirely volunteer-led are also obliged to adhere to legislation and should as far as possible comply with regulations in order to ensure best practice.

Key Recommendations

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the current legislation on Health and Safety practice require organisations to comply with the following practice:

  • Examine the risks inherent in their work place and in the working practices of paid staff and volunteers
  • Act to mitigate or protect against those risks
  • Set up systems for reporting incidents and auditing performance.

In essence, if a volunteer is exposed to the same risks as that of a paid worker, the same Health and Safety standards should be adhered to.

Health and Safety Legislation

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the legal obligations of an organisation to its employees. It also outlines organisations responsibilities to individuals that are not employees, such as volunteers and members of the public who may be affected by their work activities. In addition to this, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 also place a duty on employers to assess the risk to anyone who may be affected by any work activities.

Managing Health and Safety

The HSE produced a publication Managing Health and Safety: the five steps to success, which outlines a really useful structure that organisations can work with to help them move towards complying with best practice.

Set out your policy

A health and safety policy is the foundation on which to develop good health and safety practices and procedures. It also outlines the organisation’s commitment to good health and safety standards. Organisations with fewer than five employees are not obliged to have a policy but are strongly advised to do so. For a sample policy visit – http://www.hse.gov.uk/

Organise your staff

Managers need to ensure that volunteers and staff are adequately instructed and trained for the activities they carry out. Information should be shared about any risks and the preventative measures that you have identified. There should be clear lines of communication between volunteers, staff and managers to ensure that safety issues are dealt with.

Plan and set standards

Identify hazards and assess risks. Consider the design of the various tasks that are undertaken by your staff and volunteers. Think about the procedures you need to have in place in order to deal with imminent dangers e.g. fires etc. Include a set of standards in your policy against which you can measure your performance

Measure your performance

There should be regular inspection and checking to ensure that your standards (your policy) are effectively implemented. Any Incident should be recorded and investigated.

Learn from your experience

Regularly audit and review the effectiveness of your Health and Safety policy. Does it still comply with legislation? Are there absent or inadequate standards? Is action being taken within appropriate timescales? What lessons can be learnt from the incidents that have occurred?

Health and Safety Themes

The Workplace

The building must be safe and compliant with all relevant legislation. The Workplace Regulations 1992 apply to all work places and cover a range of health and safety issues including ventilation, heating and lighting, workstations, seating etc. A Risk Assessment will vary according to the nature of the workplace; Charity shops for example should examine issues such as handling unknown equipment or cash handling.

Fire

In England and Wales the employer (or Volunteer placement organisation) are responsible for fire safety.

First Aid

The minimum provisions for every workplace are 1) a suitably stocked first aid box and 2) an appointed person to take charge of first aid NB: this does not have to be a fully qualified First Aider.

Events

When running an event, an assessment of risks should be carried out as part of the planning. An assessment might cover: cash, insurance, wiring and equipment, first aid, etc.

Working Off Site

This is possibly a difficult one to foresee for volunteers working off site. Issues for offsite working could be: communication, access to first aid, personal safety and facilities such as toilet, lone working, drinking water and washing.

Equipment

There are many issues for working with equipment, risk assessment measures could include: training for safe operations and checking of equipment by a qualified person.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

This would include issues such as physical handling and disorders such as Repetitive Strain Injury.

Work Related Violence

Addressing issues if staff and volunteers are at risk from clients or members of the public. Think about both the preventative measures and support measures given if a staff or volunteer member of the team has experienced an assault (verbal or physical).

Stress

Is stress a likely occurrence for your staff and volunteers? Have volunteers and staff the right skills to undertake the tasks and are they recognised for their contribution?

Volunteer Risk Management

Risk managing a volunteer role (or a particular volunteer’s suitability for a role) is a really useful exercise to undertake for your organisation. It helps ensure that volunteer involvement is well planned for and correctly resources to effectively manage any risk. It also demonstrates commitment to ensuring robust structures to support higher risk volunteers. This guide will show you the principles of conducting a risk assessment for a volunteer role and for risk assessing the suitability of a volunteer of your organisation.

Principles of Risk Assessing

Organisations have a duty of care towards their volunteers (amongst others). Duty of care means that you and your organisation need to take reasonable care to ensure that the activities of your volunteers are conducted to reduce the risk of any form of harm, Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 enshrines this duty of care in law.

Effective risk assessment allows an organisation to establish the potential risks and identify the control measures that can help to minimise the outcome of any risk.

Risk Assessing a Volunteer or Role

Sometimes whilst planning for volunteers within your organisation, it can become apparent that the role you are looking to offer might come with an element of risk. It could be that it is role that is predominately lone working, working with a particularly difficult client group or it could be that an activity requires use of mechanical tools; it could also carry a level of responsibility in relation to access to sensitive data. However just because a role may, on first impressions appear to be high risk, an assessment to identify what these risks are could help to identify potential solutions or indeed help to draw to the conclusion that the role is too high risk.

Below is a list that could be identified as potential risks within a volunteer role. This is not a comprehensive list but indicative of the kinds of risks that can present concern:

  • Accident, injury or death of a client or client’s family member, volunteer, paid staff or member of the general public
  • Substandard performance by volunteers resulting in harm to clients, users, participants, or the public
  • Client or volunteer abuse (physical, emotional, financial)
  • Volunteers exceeding role descriptions, skills, boundaries or authority
  • Misleading or wrong advice and information given to clients or the public
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Volunteers inappropriately speaking for/misrepresenting the organisation
  • Loss or damage to property
  • Theft, misappropriation of funds, fraud
  • Governance-related risks, including trustee liability.

As part of the assessment process, the organisation could then seek to determine how these risks could affect, for example:

  • Damage to organisational credibility
  • Loss of public trust and support
  • Loss of financial reserves or funding
  • Loss of users, members, paid staff and volunteers
  • Decreased ability to raise funds or recruit paid staff and volunteers
  • Increased insurance costs or withdrawal of insurance
  • Legal claims.

As well as risk assessing whether a volunteer role is suitable for an organisation, it may become necessary to assess whether an individual is suitable to volunteer in the role. This may be due to a number of reasons which could include; a volunteer has a complex offending history or has some challenging behavioural issues. By risk assessing a volunteer, you have the opportunity to consider what risks the volunteer presents to the organisation and potentially to themselves.

Whether you are looking at the risks surrounding a particular role or a volunteer the aim is to look at the potential risk, identify how you can mitigate that risk and what contingency you might want to put in place.

As an example, if your volunteers are doing lone working with clients then you should look at any potential risks around this.

The “risk” might be identified as they could be vulnerable as you will not know when they have finished with the client visit and that everything is ok. To “mitigate” that risk you might put in place a protocol which means that the volunteer calls in to let you know that they have finished and that everything is fine. If they don’t do that then you will need to develop a contingency. That might be calling the volunteer after the expected time they were supposed to sign off. If you can’t get hold of them you might also have procedures to contact their nominated person to let them know that you are trying to get in touch with them.

What to do or When to stop?

When making an assessment you must balance the risks in terms of what can be a tolerated risk within the organisation, what would require some control measures to be implemented or when an activity needs to cease.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Further Support Available

Stockton Volunteers is dedicated to supporting volunteer involved organisations in Stockton-on-Tees. Further support is available through our website where you can:

  • Download more Good Practice Guides
  • Find out more about the Stockton Volunteers Good Practice Kite Mark
  • Place volunteer advertisements
  • Get information about our latest Stockton Volunteers Partnership Meeting
  • Contact us for advice and support on your volunteering programmes
  • Get advice on policies and procedures for volunteering

The Stockton Volunteers Good Practice Kite Mark is awarded to organisations who demonstrate commitment to supporting and nurturing their volunteers.

Recognised across County Durham and Stockton-on-Tees, the Stockton Volunteers Good Practice Kite Mark follows the ethos of Volunteer England and National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).