Volunteers running sports clubs

Health and safety law does not generally apply to volunteers running a club with no employees, unless the club has responsibility for premises like a clubhouse or playing fields. If the club has one employee then the Health and Safety at Work Act will apply.

Civil law and the duty of care
  • Under the common law, voluntary organisations and individual volunteers have a duty of care to each other and others who may be affected by their activities. Where something goes wrong, individuals may, in some cases, sue for damages using the civil law if they are injured as a result of another person’s negligence
  • But for a negligence claim to succeed, the injured person must show that the defendant had a duty to take reasonable care towards them and that they have suffered the injury through a breach of that duty. The injured person must also show that the type of loss or injury for which damages are being claimed was a foreseeable result of the breach of the duty
  • Anyone (including volunteers) with control of premises like a clubhouse or playing fields has a duty to see that the premises, access to them and plant (e.g. sports equipment) and substances provided are safe for the persons using them so far as is reasonably practicable. Often this is a shared duty between the premises owner, a management committee and users
  • The extent of a club’s legal duty will depend on the level of control it has over the premises and the type of plant or substances provided. For example, if your club owns or manages the premises, then you would be expected to keep the premises and any sports equipment provided in good repair. If your club uses sports equipment then you would be expected to take reasonable steps to check it is safe to use e.g. check nets/posts are secure before a game so they won’t collapse and injure a player.
If more than one person is employed then the following applies
  • The main criminal law controlling health and safety at work in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work  Act 1974 (HSW Act) it sets out the general duties that employers have towards their employees and anyone else who may be harmed by the employers work activities of workplace, this requires them to do what is reasonably practicable. (Reasonably practicable means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk)
  • The Act is supported by many regulations setting out more detailed legal duties. The Act and the regulations under it apply to club organisers who are both employers and self employed.