Frequently asked questions - Employers duties

Employers are responsible for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of employees, as well that of members of the public affected by the work.

Employers have a duty of care to all staff and members of the public affected by the work, including volunteers.

Employers can be found negligent if what they do, or fail to do, causes an accident to a volunteer.

For any organisation which employs at least one member of staff, the Health & Safety at Work Act and Regulations made under it will apply.

A different part of the Health & Safety at Work Act covers the employer's duty to volunteers and other members of the public.

Employers need to take volunteers into account when carrying out risk assessments and taking steps to make a workplace safer.

Employers should also ensure they are adequately insured for the number of volunteers they expect to use.

Most small community groups engage mostly in fairly low risk activities e.g. running a charity shop or small office, and there is useful advice readily available which is easily followed: see

Sensible measures that involve anticipating what could happen then making things safer need not be problematic, nor involve cancelling activities by citing "health and safety" as an excuse. 

Governing body

Community groups would be advised to have at least one person on the managing body who keeps an eye on health and safety matters, has some relevant training, and reports back to the governing body when necessary.

Some basic risk assessments may be needed e.g. to ensure that computer users do not develop painful conditions later, but they are not hard to do and step-by-step advice is available.

Some basic training may be needed for staff and volunteers e.g. when manual handling is necessary, after steps have been taken to cut out as much heavy lifting as possible, for example by making it possible to carry smaller loads.

Hazardous activities

Even smaller groups can sometimes undertake work which is potentially more hazardous e.g. when refurbishing, and should seek advice when this happens.

Also, increasing numbers of community organisations do engage regularly in higher risk activities which can cause serious accidents to clients, staff and others e.g. from using lifting equipment for clients unsafely. 

There have been deaths to patients, for example, and government cuts mean that more charities now take over work that was previously undertaken by local authorities.

Those running such organisations need to take their employers' safety duties as seriously as any employer in other sectors are required to do, and make it a priority in how they run the organisation.

The HSE tells employers: " A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. Workers and others have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures. "

Workers also have rights to be consulted and fully involved in the process.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations the employer must carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments to enable workers to avoid accidents and occupational ill-health (which in a typical year is far 

greater than that arising from accidents) resulting from the work that you might carry out. 

Resources are available to help do it well - see the HSE website


Besides their duties to all employees, employers have a legal duty to:

  • do a specific risk assessment for work or work experience for under-18s, which takes into account their lack of experience, and to take steps to protect them from risks
  • inform parents or carers of under-18s of any significant risks
  • take steps to ensure young people are instructed, trained and supervised to a higher standard than adults
  • prevent them working where they could be exposed to toxic substances or harmful radiation; or extreme heat, vibration or noise
  • observe certain restrictions on hours of work

The HSE has a section about young workers on its website

The TUC and Learning and Skills Council has advice to safety reps on apprentices: