When you are employed on a part-time or full-time basis there is a general assumption that your employer is liable for accidents in the workplace. The consensus of opinion is very different for volunteer work and “helping out” when in reality it is still fairly straightforward. Additional confusion can arise where volunteer workers are initially recruited by agencies to work with various other organisations. There is even more room for confusion when it comes to volunteers assigned to projects overseas by UK-based agencies/employers.
Over the years we have seen a significant increase in the amount of volunteer work undertaken in the UK and overseas. This can take in a whole range of different roles and different activities but the general level of protection afforded to individuals is still the same. Some of the more common volunteering roles include:-
- International development work
- Assisting the homeless
- Visiting and assisting the vulnerable and elderly
- Activity groups such as girl guides and scouts
This is just a relatively small selection of the type of volunteering work which is more commonplace today than it ever has been. However, that is not to say the paperwork and the legal side of these extremely worthwhile activities is anything but easy!
International Development Work
The international development sector has expanded significantly in recent years with the number of paid and volunteer roles increasing dramatically. There are slightly different aspects to consider for those with a salaried role and those with a non-salaried role but the basics are the same.
Whether you are assisting with administration in the UK or flying out to a foreign land to help with a local disaster, training is an integral part of the process. The training process itself is extremely simple and takes in the following:-
- Initial health and safety training
- Initial training for a specific role
- Training updates on a regular basis
In years gone by the training process was seen by many as a one-off but now it is an ongoing ever flowing obligation. It is imperative that all employees, whether salaried or non-salaried, have health and safety training and training for their specific roles. All the training needs to be documented and a record kept for each individual which can be referred to in the future. This will identify the level of training received, frequency of updates and also what type of training was received for specific roles. In many cases this can help to mitigate any personal injury claims if the employer is able to show they fulfilled their legal obligations regarding training.
Agencies And Employers
International development workers are often recruited by agencies although much of the work may be carried out under the guise of a different body. This can potentially complicate the seeking of compensation where injuries have been received as a consequence of negligence. If the recruiting agency assigned an individual to a role with a third party for which they were unqualified, or lacked the relevant experience, then they may well have some liability. On the other hand, if an injury occurred as a consequence of negligence by the third party, i.e. dangerous working conditions, then it is highly likely they would be liable for any injury compensation claim.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is still relevant whether this is paid work or volunteer work. When you consider the legal implications of assigning the wrong person to the wrong role it is perhaps a little easier to understand why international development work is not as easy to find as many would expect. Just because you are a volunteer does not mean that the parties involved have less of a legal obligation to ensure your well-being.
Assisting The Homeless
The last few years have seen a significant increase in the number of homeless people in the UK and volunteer services looking to assist. Many people are now willing to give up their free time to help with tasks such as handing out blankets and equipment we often take for granted but on the streets they can be priceless. There is also the issue of dispensing food to the homeless, many of whom may struggle to find a regular meal.
There are various unique challenges when assisting the homeless and it is essential that all volunteers and paid workers receive the relevant training. There have been instances of drug abuse and it is essential that volunteers are able to identify potentially dangerous situations and take the relevant evasive action. This is also a situation where protective equipment, just as you would have in any workplace, should be available to prevent injury and illness.
Visiting The Vulnerable And Elderly
Many people believe that cuts to the social services budget, together with an ageing population in the UK, mean that many vulnerable and elderly individuals can go without simple assistance. As a consequence, we have seen an increase in the number of volunteers willing to give up their time to help others. There will always be a central agency, some charity, public or government body, in overall charge and again they have an obligation to ensure all volunteers/paid workers have the relevant training and equipment.
One of the many challenges can be lifting/showering individuals who may have mobility issues. This is one of the reasons why hoists and other lifting equipment are more commonplace than ever before. In the past many carers experienced significant back damage when assisting those with mobility issues. In this instance, it may be due to a lack of training or a lack of relevant equipment but in the event of injury the agency overlooking the service may well be liable.
Whether we look at girl guides, scouts, football clubs or other recreational groups, this is the perfect way in which to enhance social interaction and in many cases team spirit. The vast majority of these groups will operate on a voluntary basis with funding coming from a mix of donations and central parties such as for example the Scout Association. In the event of an injury to an assistant, or one of the participants, if the central or local body were found to be negligent then they may well be liable to payment of compensation.
While some would argue that increased legal obligations have taken the “fun” out of these recreational groups, we live in a litigious world where those with a legal responsibility may well be held liable in the courts. Many of the central bodies will have insurance to cover injuries and accidents during “their watch”. This not only ensures they can fulfil their legal obligations but it also helps to protect the long-term viability of these activities.
Claiming Compensation As A Volunteer
As we touched on above, just because you are a volunteer in no way shape or form reduces the legal liability assigned to your employer. A “traditional” personal injury compensation claim consists of two elements, compensation for the injuries and compensation for loss of earnings. At face value, the injury element is fairly straightforward but loss of earnings for a role which was unpaid would appear to be a nonstarter. However, this is not necessarily the case!
Claiming For Loss Of Earnings
In this particular scenario the official claim for effective loss of earnings would be “disadvantage in the labour market”. If for example you had separate regular paid employment along with your volunteering work then you may be able to claim for loss of earnings as a consequence of injuries received during your volunteering work. The idea is that because of the injuries received you have been disadvantaged in the labour market with an impact on your income.
This is one of the more complicated areas of law when it comes to personal injury claims. However, do not automatically assume because your role is unpaid that you can’t seek compensation for the knock-on effect into other areas of your life.
Claiming For Injuries
When it comes to claiming for injuries caused as a consequence of negligence, where liability has been proven/accepted, it is exactly the same as what you would expect for any other injury claim. The courts have guidelines which indicate the varying levels of compensation for different types of injuries and different levels of severity. It will be down to your personal injury claims solicitor to prove negligence/liability and seek the relevant level of compensation.
While there are many different types of volunteering roles today it is worth noting that employees/recruitment agencies are still legally responsible for the well-being of those in their employment/care. It is irrelevant as to whether the role is paid or non-paid with both attracting the same level of employee protection. In some cases this will explain what may appear to be excessive paperwork when applying for volunteer roles. This is not charities and other similar bodies being awkward, they are simply fulfilling their legal obligations, protecting themselves going forward and the longevity of their projects.