The line between employee and volunteer status can be unclear, however the difference between the two is irrelevant when it comes to health and safety and whether you were owed duty of care and safe working conditions or not. Every employer is obliged to provide a safe place of work that is free from any potential hazards or risks.
More often than not, if you are not paid for your work, you are considered a volunteer.
There are situations where it is unclear if you are considered a volunteer or an employee.
Volunteering in an organisation or charity where accommodation and meals are paid for.
- Working as a live in carer
- Working for a religious organisation
- Volunteering for an agency such as organisations to support the homeless, and the elderly.
- Regular volunteering in an activity or group such as the GAA or guides.
Companies and organisations owe a duty of care to protect the safety and health of everyone on their premises. Visitors, employees, tourists etc are all protected by this duty.
Common forms of accidents while working/ volunteering include and are not limited to:
- Slips, trips or falls in the work/volunteering place.
- Vehicle related accidents: collisions, rollovers or crashes involving any vehicle provided to you /owned by the company.
- Fire and explosions, this can be caused by faulty wiring, gas leaks, and even human error- This can cause smoke inhalation, burns, and blast injuries.
- Repetitive strain/stress injuries, caused by performing the same motion repetitively over a period of time like pulling/pushing heavy objects, this can affect muscles, tendons nerves and joints.
Laws regarding volunteer/work accidents
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, which also applies for non-profit/volunteer work, outlines the broad framework of responsibilities, and obligations required of employees and employers. This law ensures that employers provide a safe place of work/premises.
The law covers areas ranging from:
- Providing safe systems of work
- Training and supervision
- Providing a safe place of work
These procedures are necessary in order for employers to ensure they fulfil employees/ volunteers’ health and safety needs.
Steps that should be followed to provide a safe space for working.
- Identify any hazards in the workplace: all hazards in the workplace such as chemicals, heavy machinery and steps to name a few, must be identified and precautions in place to prevent any injuries from occurring.
- Provide all necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Employers must provide any and all necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ensure all employees/volunteers are safe.
- Choose control measures: Controls measures must be in place to make sure that all operations run safely and according to plan.
- Provide all relevant and necessary training such as manual handling etc.
- Write a safety statement: This requires employers to assess the risks in the place of work and develop plans to keep the workplace safe.
Some areas of volunteer work can be more dangerous and have more risks than other forms of volunteer work, such as:
- Volunteering in areas that have a high crime rate.
- Volunteering for international charities.
- Assisting elderly, and vulnerable people
- Working with the homeless.
Financial support after an accident
Volunteers do not usually have access to the same financial services as employed workers, such as employment support allowance (ESA) or statutory sick pay (SSP).
In many instances the only resolution for volunteer workers who need financial assistance is by way of making a compensation claim. This can cover any medical costs, living costs, and if you are employed in any company, and are injured while volunteering, causing you to be out of work, would make you eligible for claiming any loss of earnings.
Time limits for taking legal action.
If you are injured while volunteering in a company/organisation, you may be entitled to pursue legal action, the Irish limitations state that if the injury has occurred within the last 2 years minus one day, legal proceedings can be issued providing that the employer or any other party has been found to be negligent, and as a result, has caused you to be injured.
If you are unsure of whether you are entitled to seek legal action or not, here at Tracey Solicitors LLP we are more than happy to help you answer any questions you may have, we use our experience and knowledge to give you the voice that you need and use plain language to guide you on your legal journey without any confusion.
For more information please visit: Accidents At Work – Tracey Solicitors LLP