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by Matthew Holder, head of campaigns, British Safety Council
03 November 2015
Who's afraid of volunteering?

Who's afraid of volunteering?

In a recent blog Andrew Sharman, a well-known safety expert, recalled a conversation about what he did for a living. On saying he worked in safety, the person replied so ‘you’re that guy that stops people doing things because they might be a little bit risky.’

As someone who works for a health and safety organisation, I am particularly conscious of the dangers of this attitude. Of course risk awareness has a quite rational function that enables us to calculate danger. Yet when this becomes risk-aversion then we have to admit we have a problem.

Where this risk-aversion has come from is difficult to say - the 24 hour news agenda, how science and the law work together to allow us to ‘know more and blame more,’ a concern about how our lives are regulated and who is doing the regulation, or paradoxically is a reflection of how many of us now work in safe office environments – but it does seem to be a feature of modern life.

For me, this has been illustrated in work the British Safety Council is doing with a charity called Step Up To Serve for their #iwill campaign. The campaign is trying to get more young people between the ages of 10 to 20 to do social action, activities that bring positive benefits to others such as volunteering in a care home.

They approached us with a concern that one of the reasons adults shy away from helping is a fear of health and safety. When I explored this, what I discovered was that for some there is a genuine fear that young people are more prone to injury, of the law, of drowning in endless paperwork and of completing complicated risk assessments that force people to reduce risks to zero.

The British Safety Council is happy to give people reassurance, the credibility of what we do is at stake. Our message is that the UK is a pretty safe country, most social action will be low risk and you should trust that young people have an instinctive understanding of risk. Of course any significant risks should be managed sensibly; young people can’t help communities if they are unsafe. But these risks can be simply and effectively dealt with.

We have launched ‘Volunteers,’ a new campaign website that includes factsheets and videos; including clarification over legal duties in the area of volunteering and a sensible approach to doing risk assessments for more significant risks. It would be a tragedy if we see a reduction in the risk profile of the country – partly thanks to those politicians who have driven improvements to health and safety - matched by an increase in risk-aversion that damages the opportunities we give young people.

We launched on Halloween to bring home the message that health and safety is nothing to fear. Tell us what you think of the site or share your thoughts about how we can increase youth social action.

Matthew Holder, head of campaigns, British Safety Council

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