How to protect the safety of volunteers?

There’s a rise in volunteer work in the UK, with over a majority of the population being involved in some kind of charity work (Volunteers week). Small organisations or charities greatly benefit from volunteers, as it helps them to tackle their daily operations or delivery of services. Some charities wouldn’t even be able to function without volunteers!

According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), “Volunteering is someone spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone who they’re not closely related to. Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.” A survey conducted by the NCVO have also stated that 91% of charities registered in the UK are run by volunteers.

The National Union of Students (NUS) are supporting the Student Volunteering Week, which aims to celebrate the “impact of student volunteers and encourage students to engage in civic life”. This campaign has been successfully running for 17 years and will take place between the 19th – 25th of February. They will focus on improving on their last year’s campaign where 60 colleges and 55,000 students were involved in various types of social actions (Awareness days UK).

Although volunteers are not directly employed by an organisation, their safety should still be a high priority. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), organisations have a ‘Duty of Care’ requirement to protect the health, safety and well-being of anyone that deals with the organisation; including volunteers, customers, suppliers or even the general public.

Ensuring people’s safety is very important, so let’s look at some examples where an organisation’s duty of care comes into play:

A young volunteer is left in charge of a heavy machinery. The volunteer is not trained to use the machine and failed to wear any safety gloves whilst operating the machine.

The volunteer sustains a serious injury to their hand and ends up being hospitalised. Due to the lack of training or supervision in this instance, the organisation could be held liable by the court.

Here we highlight some safety tips to consider to protect the safety of your volunteers within your organisation:

  • Conduct risk assessments to identify potential risks or hazards so that it can be eliminated.
  • Employers should provide a safe place to work which is clean and free from risks.
  • Consider providing a lone worker solution, like the Smartphone App by Peoplesafe, that will allow a volunteer to transform their own Smartphone into a personal safety device.
  • Ensure effective training is provided to all employees/volunteers so that they can carry out their work safely.
  • Have proper procedures in place to help avoid injuries caused by handling dangers substances or heavy machinery.
  • It would be good practice to have at least one first aid trained volunteer.

Health and Safety should be considered a priority by all groups and organisations that engage volunteers (VCES). With effective health and safety in place, volunteers will be able to carry out their activities effectively in a safe environment with minimum risk to themselves, the public or the organisation. Demonstrating a commitment to keeping volunteers safe can help to retain their services and attract more volunteers too.




Volunteers week –
Awareness days UK –