Groups want to help people, animals, the environment or things (e.g. historic buildings). They want to do that well but will want to make sure that people are safe and are not hurt. Health and safety is not about red tape or stopping groups doing what they want to do but being aware of the risks, balancing them against the benefits, and doing whatever you can to reduce the likelihood of any injury. In fact it may make your activities more fun and rewarding, and those attending being more confident about your services because they feel safe. For charities this is part of their safeguarding duty. People can get very worried about risks and legal action. However we are not like the USA and the courts very often take a pragmatic approach. So as long as you have followed any H&S laws and guidance/good practice that exists for the activity you are doing, and if there is none that you have thought about the risks and acted reasonably and responsibly you are unlikely to lose a case.

 The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a good place to look at for all sorts of legal and good practice guidance. A good place to start is their Health and safety made simple. They have a specific section for volunteering,

Getting started

Although it may seem like a doom and gloom exercise but you need to think about what could go wrong and why, who is at risk and what could be the result. So think about:

  • Where the activity will take place
  • The sort of people taking part and any needs they have
  • Any equipment that will be used
  • The activity itself.

Then consider if you should stop the activity, reduce the chances of it happening, or put in place ways to reduce the severity of any injury. There needs to be a judgement call about balancing the benefits with the risks. For instance allowing children to climb trees obviously has dangers! However there are benefits of exercise, being outside in the natural environment, experiencing challenge and achievement, learning to take risks and of course it’s FUN. Therefore you may decide it’s a risk worth taking so plan to reduce the chances. This may include finding tress not so dangerous, having enough adults to help and monitor the climbing, giving them some instruction (e.g. an adult doing it with them is a great way!), making sure you have appropriate first aid to hand, a mobile to call for medical assistance if needed, insurance to cover yourself and maybe the children.

This process is formally called doing a risk assessment:

STEP 1:   Look for the hazards

STEP 2: Decide who might be harmed and how

STEP 3: Evaluate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done

STEP 4:  Record your findings

STEP 5: Review your assessment and revise it if necessary

Here is a template to record this. It also has columns to assess likelihood and severity/impact. This can help you identify the most serious hazards by multiplying the two figures together and decide which are high risk (e.g. more than 15), medium (10-15) and low (under 10). We also have a checklist to help with the planning. Although from 2006 this guide is a simple one to follow particularly by smaller groups. The HSE has good pages with an intro video and a template with examples for different work environments. Locally Bournemouth YMCA runs courses.

H&S Law

All groups have a general legal responsibility to take care not to cause injury to people. In the eyes of the law, your group has a duty of care to group members and others who may be affected by your activities, which means you need to do what you can to protect people from harm. It is a good idea to keep a record of what you have done, in case you ever have to prove that you have taken care to avoid accidents. 

As soon as you employ someone or have control of a building or room you have additional legal requirements for H&S under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. You must provide:

  • safe equipment;
  • safe substances;
  • necessary information, instruction, supervision and training;
  • a safe and healthy workplace;
  • a safe and healthy working environment.

Once you have 5 employees you must also have a written H&S Policy although its good practice for smaller employers to have this as well to help with communication with your staff but also to help defend any possible regulatory action. The Health and Safety Executive also “strongly recommend” that organisations make sure their volunteers are protected in the same ways.

The HSE have a template policy (with an example) and here is ours for smaller groups and one from Russell Cooke for larger.


If you have more than 10 employees, you must keep an accident book under social security law, however it is recommended that all groups keep these. Keeping records of incidents helps you to identify patterns of accidents and injuries, so you can better assess and manage risks. Records can also be helpful when you are dealing with your insurance company or even any complaint or legal action taken by those injured. You can buy books from HSE Books or record the details in your own record system. Whatever you use you must protect people's personal details by storing records confidentially in a secure place.

Some accidents must be reported to the HSE under RIDDOR. This will include:

  • a death of a worker or non-worker related to a work related accident
  • certain work related injuries to workers
  • any injury that results in more than seven days incapacitation of a worker
  • certain occupational diseases (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome, severe cramp of the hand or forearm)
  • accidents to members of the public or others who are not at work if they result in an injury and the person is taken directly from the scene of the accident to hospital for treatment to that injury. Examinations and diagnostic tests do not constitute 'treatment' in such circumstances.
  • one of 27 categories of dangerous occurrences, for example: the collapse, overturning or failure of load-bearing parts of lifts and lifting equipment; the accidental release of any substance which could cause injury to any person.
  • Gas incidents.

Check the RIDDOR pages to see if you need to report. In nearly all cases the report has to be made online.

Last updated: 26th April, 2022

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