Published 31st October 2020
Ensuring general safety and risk management procedures for volunteers
What is risk?
- Why assess risk within your volunteering opportunities?
- What types of risk can be associated with volunteering?
- How do we keep it manageable?
- What about driving when volunteering?
- What is the process for assessing and managing risks?
- Where can I get further information and advice?
1. What is risk?
Risk is everywhere. Every action we take, from crossing the road to trying something for the first time, is a calculated risk.
Risk describes the uncertainty surrounding events and their outcomes that may have a significant effect, either positive or negative, on:
- Operational performance
- Achievement of aims and objectives
- Meeting expectations of those receiving support
The process of risk assessment is designed to enable you to control and minimise risk and its impact. No activity is risk free and even with good planning it may be impossible to eliminate the risks from any activity. However, if something does go wrong, good risk management should help to minimise the impact of the event.
2. Why assess risk within your volunteering opportunities?
As an organisation that involves volunteers we are well aware of the benefits they bring. However, it is important to be adequately prepared for things going wrong which may cause significant harm to the volunteer, service users or beneficiaries, colleagues or the organisation itself.
There are a number of very good reasons why everyone who is undertaking volunteering activities should take the time to assess risk:
- To protect themselves, the service users and beneficiaries
- To protect the organisation for which they are volunteering
- To maximise effectiveness through applying good practice to address areas of potential weakness
Ultimately, however, it is worth assessing risk in your volunteering opportunities because you value the benefits of volunteering and want to ensure that, as far as possible, you do not suffer or cause any harm as a result of volunteering.
Risk assessment is about much more than health and safety. However, it is worth remembering that every organisation has a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved through appropriate policies and procedures. Volunteers and the activities of volunteers are no exception. Risk assessment is an important tool to help organisations meet this responsibility. It is an essential part of good volunteer management and should not be seen as an add-on.
As an organisation, Community Calling carries out an informal risk assessment when purchasing insurance but “risk management is not about buying insurance. It is not about avoiding lawsuits. Instead it is about protecting and conserving organisations resources and providing goods and services reasonably.” (Laird Hunter 1998).
Due to the nature of Community Calling’s Support Matching Service, we rely on all volunteers and supporting organisations to conduct their own risk assessments to ensure the safety of themselves, the service users and beneficiaries; to protect the organisation for which they are volunteering; and, to maximise effectiveness through applying good practice to address areas of potential weakness.
3. What types of risk can be associated with volunteering?
The more demanding the volunteer role and the more contact the volunteer has with clients the greater the potential risks. However, even the most seemingly benign role needs to be assessed to identify what could potentially go wrong. The following are just some examples:
Risks to service users/beneficiaries through, for example:
- Volunteer providing inaccurate information or advice
- Volunteer failing to provide adequate standard of care
- Volunteer breaching confidentiality or misusing personal data
Risks to the volunteer through, for example:
- Organisation failing to provide adequate training
- Organisation failing to meet relevant health and safety standards
- Organisation having inadequate policies and procedures to protect and support volunteers whilst engaged in voluntary opportunities
Risks to the organisation and its reputation or its funding through, for example:
- Volunteer misrepresenting the organisation through speaking or acting inappropriately (including online activity)
- Volunteer breaching confidentiality or misusing personal data
- Service users suffering harm as a result of the volunteering activity
Risk to any stakeholders through, for example:
- Volunteer acting outside specific request and exceeding skills/authority
- Substandard performance by a volunteer
- Theft or fraud by a volunteer
4. How do we keep it manageable?
The process of risk assessment helps to identify the really significant risks which should be given particular attention and provides a framework for identifying appropriate actions that should be taken to reduce risks. Implementing this process is, in itself, a significant step in reducing the overall level of risk.
While managing risk is very important it is equally important that the measures used do not place unnecessary or impractical regulations on volunteers preventing them from carrying out their roles fully. It is also important that the process of risk assessment does not become excessive. The rule of thumb is “reasonable measures, reasonably applied”.
5. What about driving when volunteering?
Thousands of people provide their time and services as volunteer drivers to help others. This is vital, community-spirited work. However, it does involve a certain amount of risk. More information on driving when volunteering can be found here: https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/drivers/volunteer-drivers.pdf
When undertaking volunteering following a match made via Community Calling, volunteers agree to take responsibility to ensure the following:
- Legal entitlement to drive the vehicle you are using
- The vehicle is safe, road legal and insured
- Volunteer is trained and competent to drive it safely
- Using it for suitable purposes and taking standard driving precautions
It is the responsibility of the volunteer to ensure they are legally permitted to drive, that the vehicle the volunteer is using is safe (valid MOT certificate for cars aged 4+ years and vehicle tax) and that suitable insurance is held. Volunteers are advised to contact their insurance company to ensure they are covered for the type of volunteering they are doing. Carrying passengers involves additional checks and is not something that is typically required – DO NOT CARRY PASSENGERS UNLESS FORMALLY AGREED WITH AN ORGANISATION THAT HAS CONDUCTED CHECKS (LICENSE, MOT, TAX, INSURANCE AND ACCESS NI).
6. What is the process for assessing and managing risk?
The risk assessment process involves working systematically through four key steps:
6.1 Identifying the risks faced
6.2 Categorising the seriousness of these risks according to likelihood and impact
6.3 Identifying and implementing measures for managing the risks
6.4 Regularly reviewing your risk assessment to factor in change
6.1 Identifying risks
The first step is to start to consider the risks that exist within your volunteer opportunity. Remember to consider whether there is potential for harm to yourself as the volunteer, service users/beneficiaries, colleagues/stakeholders and the organisation you are volunteering on behalf of.
6.2 Categorising risks
Secondly, you need to be able to identify which risks are the most serious and which are fairly minor. By systematically categorising the risks identified, you are able to identify which warrant the most attention.
For each risk identified in the previous stage, you may wish to rate the level of risk according to the likelihood of it happening and the seriousness of the potential impact were it to happen. You may find it helpful to use a scale (e.g. High/Medium/Low).
You can then prioritise the risks according to the rating given. Those which have higher risk ratings (e.g. those that are both high likelihood and high impact) should be given much greater and more urgent attention.
6.3 Manage the risk
The next step is to look at what can be done to reduce the likelihood and lessen the impact of the identified risks. Risks can be managed in a number of ways. You can:
- Avoid the risk
- Control the risk
- Finance the risk
The first aim should be to remove the risk completely. This may involve ceasing the activity or parts of the activity. If this is not possible, steps should be taken to reduce the risk. This may involve contacting Community Calling or the organisation you are volunteering for to discuss reviewing and adjusting policies/practices or providing additional training.
Avoid the risk – If the activity is not core (i.e. if objectives can be met in other ways) and if the level of risk cannot be satisfactorily reduced through other means, you may decide not to engage in this activity or provide this service.
Example: A youth project decides not to offer white water rafting on their residential trips due to the level of risk involved. Objectives are still met through other activities on these trips.
Control the risk – This is the most common approach. If an activity is core for your volunteering activity then you will need to ensure you are familiar with any good practice policies that should be adhered to, be aware of any staff and volunteer training is needed to ensure these are implemented and how this is to be recorded and monitored. Controlling risk involves implementing measures to both reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome and to reduce the impact of such an outcome.
Example: A community crèche identifying risks around child protection develops good child protection policies which it communicates to all staff, monitors and regularly reviews. Good record keeping demonstrates that these provisions have been put in place.
Finance the risk – You may alternatively decide to ask for resources to meet the liabilities caused by the risks when they happen.
Example: An organisation which risks losing volunteers due to the costs incurred in volunteering, may decide to allocate a budget to cover volunteer expenses.
You may be surprised to find how many measures you already have in place (mitigating factors) that help reduce the risks faced. This stage is an opportunity to document and review measures to reduce risk by considering:
- What are you doing already to reduce the level of risk?
- Is there anything more that you could or should do?
When this is considered, you need to decide when these further measures should be taken or implemented and if you need any help from Community Calling to reduce any risks you encounter.
Please refer to Volunteer Now’s Risk Assessment Template for a typical risk assessment in relation to COVID-19. Please ask Community Calling for support to conduct risk assessments if you feel you need help with this.
6.4 Review the risks
Risk management is a continuous process and should be regularly reviewed. If you have any concerns or suggestions around the volunteering opportunities you are undertaking, please contact us immediately if you feel we need to adjust our policies/practices or provide specific training.
7. Where can I get further information and advice?
A range of relevant publications can be downloaded from www.volunteernow.co.uk
Reasonable precautions have been taken to ensure information in this publication is accurate. However, it is not intended to be legally comprehensive; it is designed to provide guidance in good faith without accepting liability.
Who to contact if you have any concerns
Point of contact for all health and safety concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published by: Sarah Scullion
Publication date: 31/10/2020
Reviewed: 31/03/2021- Danielle Mills Next Review due: 31/10/2021