1 April, 2006
The Volunteer Dilemma
Charities, schools, and care homes all make use of voluntary helpers for a wide range of activities including helping with trips and visits, fetes and garden parties or with fund-raising activities from sponsored walks to parachute drops. However, unlike dealing with employees, the lines of responsibility for volunteers are unclear and there is often doubt as to who is actually in charge.
Volunteers are often more difficult to co-ordinate, supervise and discipline. Plus, they often involve older age groups who are less aware of hazards, rules, regulations and modern practices. On the other hand, their enthusiasm and willingness to help is often much greater. However, they are not exempt from all the rules and regulations that govern employees.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in its Guidance Note Ref: HSG 192 Charity and Voluntary Workers: a guide to health and safety at work considers it good practice for a ‘volunteer user’ to provide the same level of health and safety information instruction and training as they would in an employer/employee relationship and that the same level of health and safety protection should be provided irrespective of whether there are strict legal duties.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) considers it good practice for a ‘volunteer user’ to provide the same level of health and safety information instruction and training as they would in an employer/employee relationship.
The organisation must undertake specific risk assessments of all activities involving volunteers and provide the appropriate instruction and training. Policies and procedures must be developed to cover all activities both permanent and temporary including fundraising.
A risk management system should include the facility for ongoing auditing and monitoring to ensure that procedures are adapted to meet changing circumstances.
A register of volunteers should be maintained so that the organisation knows exactly who is working on its behalf.
Volunteers must know precisely what their duties comprise, to whom they report and the procedures that are in place to perform them. They should also have the necessary instruction, information and training and protective equipment to carry out these duties safely.
A formal appraisal system should be introduced to ensure that volunteers are able to continue undertaking their duties without risks to their health, safety and welfare.
The health of the volunteer should be discussed to ensure that they are still able to undertake their duties and that they are still happy to continue doing so. With increasing numbers of older volunteers it is possible that persons may be undertaking duties for which they are no longer suited, such as jobs involving manual handling or climbing stairs.
The appraisal should be carried out by the Personnel Officer, if there is one, or the person with overall responsibility for volunteers.
Ideally this exercise should be undertaken on an annual basis and in the long term should help to reduce accidents and enable the organisation to maintain a team of loyal, dedicated and hard working volunteers.
Please note that this is only a brief overview and is based on our understanding of current law and practice. Legal advice must be obtained if you are unsure of any of your responsibilities.
This article was sourced from the December 05 update from The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group newsletter.
Ecclesiastical, in addition to their seminars provide Guidance Notes for charities and care homes. They contain further information on how to conduct a risk assessment.
If you wish to obtain a free copy of the please leave a contact message on this link.