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Does Health & Safety legislation apply to volunteers?

Does Health & Safety Legislation apply to volunteers?

The answer to this particular question is a little complicated and there can often be a lot of confusion. This confusion arises out of the difference between criminal and civil law. Strictly speaking, health and safety legislation – which is criminal law - only applies to employers, employees and the self-employed – and it only applies to an organisation which has at least one employee.

However, the Health and Safety at Work Act does impose a duty of care on employers and employees towards those not at work, i.e. members of the public and volunteers. This means that volunteers are protected by health and safety legislation but aren’t subject to it.

Civil Law

Since Health and Safety legislation only applies to an organisation which has at least one employee, that means it doesn’t apply to purely voluntary organisations with no employees. Does that mean there’s no legislation protecting volunteers?


Under civil law, everyone has a duty of care to anyone affected by their actions. If they act in a way which endangers someone’s life, or causes them harm, then they can potentially be sued for negligence of this duty. The claim will be judged on the individual circumstances of the case and the level of care it is reasonable to expect from the parties involved. This means that for volunteers at a voluntary organisation, who’re working together on something which may cause harm, it would be reasonable to expect that they take care not to injure anyone else.

However, one’s duty of care under civil law is not the same as “health and safety legislation” – in fact, this duty of care applies to everyone, all the time – so, in conclusion to our question:

Volunteers are protected by health and safety legislation but are not subject to it. However, under civil law, they must still act in a way which helps maintain the safety of themselves, and anyone who may be affected by their actions.

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