by Michelle Di Gioia
Charities will undoubtedly be aware that Health and Safety is one area of law which is highly regulated. It has, in recent years, come under the Government’s spotlight as a focus for review.
Fundamentally, the principles to be followed are set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which states a retailer has a duty to ensure (in so far as is reasonably practicable) the safety, health and welfare of all their staff during working hours.
Most charities rely on volunteers to help manage the day to day running of their high street shops. Not only does the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 apply to paid employees, it also applies to these volunteers all charities have come to rely on.
Charities must ensure suitable procedures are put in place so as to avoid potential costly breaches of Health and Safety. However, this is not to say that all the burden falls on the charity; their employees have a duty to ensure they take reasonable care of themselves and also others who could be affected by their actions.
A charity has a legal responsibility to carry out risk assessments of any work-related activities which may present a risk to the personal safety of their employees and volunteers. The risk assessment should identify the hazards, assess the risk which arises and then put adequate control measures in place to minimise potential breaches. The charity should also take into consideration the job the employee or volunteer is doing, the environment in which they will be working and also any specific factors such as training, competencies and limitations.
In particular, one aspect of health and safety came to the forefront not so long ago, after convenience store operator McColl was fined £150,000 for failing to protect its staff during a series of robberies on their store in Merseyside. Following this ruling, it raises the question as to whether charities and retailers should develop a policy which is specific to lone-workers.
The lone-worker policy could consider factors such as whether the lone-worker can adequately control the risks of their job? Do they have a safe way in and out of the workplace? Do they suffer with a medical condition which would make them unsuitable for working alone? Is there a risk of violence by customers or others, depending on geographic area of location of your shop?
Supervision of lone-workers is also something which charities should be conscious of when undertaking their risk assessments. The extent of supervision will depend on the risk and also the ability of the lone-worker to identify and handle any health and safety issues. Perhaps the supervisors should be in regular contact with the lone-worker by telephone or maybe automatic warnings should be activated if certain signals are not received within a specified time period?
It appears that a wide range of technology is being developed and is available for charities to give to their lone-workers so as to ensure that they are supported as they go about undertaking their work.
Ultimately, there are three main things which charities should remember to do well in order to limit their liability for claims being successfully brought against them:
Charities should also remember that, not only may they face fines for breaching health and safety, but the employee or volunteer may also be able to bring a claim for compensation if they sustain personal injury. This is therefore a double whammy for the charity and even more reason to ensure proper procedures are in place.