Health & Safety Law for Volunteers and Charities

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 comes into force on 4 April 2016. The new legislation does provide exemptions for volunteer organisations, associations and charities. If you are running a charity or a volunteer organisation it is important to know where you fit under the new workplace health and safety law.

If you don’t have employees you are exempt.

A ‘volunteer association’ cannot be prosecuted for a health and safety breach under the new law. A ‘volunteer association’ is defined as a group of volunteers working together for a community purpose where none of the volunteers employs any person to carry out work for the volunteer association.

If the volunteer association doesn’t have employees then it is exempt from this legislation.

This is interesting as it means a volunteer association will be exempt from prosecution as long as it only has volunteers and it engages contractors to work for it, as opposed to having employees. This exemption applies to all members of the volunteer association including trustees and volunteer board members.

If your charity or volunteer organisation employs someone, the new law applies to you.

If your charity or volunteer organisation employs people then it will have a duty under the new law to ensure the health and safety of its workers and anyone else who may come into contact with the organisation’s activities.

Your employees will need to be provided with a safe work environment which will include supplying any necessary training and supervision. Volunteer workers who regularly work for the organisation on an ongoing basis and are integral to the operations, will be owed the same duties as employees.

Luckily, there is a wide exemption around how volunteers are to be treated. Causal volunteers who help out now and again, and volunteers involved in fund raising activities, assisting with sports, education or care providers are exempt from duties under the law. For example, volunteer marshals for an annual race would fall under this exemption.

This exemption also provides that organisations do not need to provide health and safety training and supervision to casual volunteers to the same level as that required for employees.

This exemption is important as it means the new law will not apply to many volunteers for most of the activities they undertake.

Trustees and board members of charity or volunteer organisations.

Volunteer trustees and board members of a charity or volunteer organisations that come under the law (i.e. they have employed someone) will be classed as ‘officers’ under the law. They will have the same health and safety duties as company directors or CEO’s. This means volunteer officers need to have knowledge of health and safety matters, and ensure their organisation has appropriate resources and processes for health and safety, and those processes are followed.

Don’t panic yet though. Whilst volunteer officers have these duties, they cannot be prosecuted for breaching them. These duties are therefore effectively guidelines for volunteer officers.

This exemption ensures that people will still be able to volunteer their time as trustees and board members without fear of being prosecuted for breaching their officer’s duties.

If your volunteer organisation or charity has employees then you need to start thinking about how health and safety is dealt with in your organisation. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 provides for you to continue doing the good work you have always done, but it is important to know where your obligations begin and end.