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How to reduce risk while volunteering

Volunteering is not a generally risky activity and of course, more things can go wrong if you’re cutting down trees or taking a group hiking than if you’re collecting donations on the high street. But whatever you’re doing, if you take the time to consider a few simple guidelines you can reduce the risk significantly.

Even though individual volunteers have a duty of care to each other and others who may be affected by their activities, people are hardly ever held liable for any consequences due to well-intentioned voluntary acts. This guide provides some basic guidance for individuals on staying safe and avoiding risk.


Take care in whatever you do

As long as you act reasonably and take this guidance into account you are very unlikely to put yourself at risk of litigation.


Think about your safety and the safety of others around you

Before you do anything, it’s a good idea to take some time to think about the risks it could pose to you and others. If there is a risk, think about what you can do to reduce it.


Involve other people

Before you do something, think about who else it might involve or have an effect on. If you’ve noticed something needs doing, chances are someone else has too. By talking about it with others, you’re more likely to identify potential problems – and be able to solve them.


Ask for help and information

Most importantly, before you decide you can’t do something or you’re putting yourself at risk of litigation, look for more information. If you have concerns about health and safety, you can ask for help or refer to information offered by the Health and Safety Executive. Organisations like the Citizens Advice also provide information and advice as well as signposting to other resources. 


Be clear about what you're responsible for (and what you're not)

Various myths circulate about responsibility. If you’re not sure about what the law says you should seek further information.

For specific areas of legislation, there's often independent organisations that offer detailed guidance. For example, the Information Commissioner’s Office can advise on issues related to the Data Protection Act.

A lot of legislation (such as building regulations, planning, local roads and parking, licensing, noise, etc) is administered by local councils who are normally the best point of contact for advice on these matters. You can find local council contact details on the GOV.UK website.


Check your existing insurance policies

If you already hold home insurance you might be surprised to find out what individual activities it covers you for. If in doubt, ask your insurance provider. The British Insurance Broker’s Association also has a guide to insurance products for volunteers.


Check the organisation's insurance

It’s the organisation that has a responsibility to ensure it has the right cover for its activities and that its volunteers have the right information and training. If you're concerned, or just interested, you should ask what insurance the organisation has.

Further information

NCVO blog posts:


Page last edited Nov 20, 2014 History

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