Guidance: safety, risk and insurance at community repair events
We are not lawyers or insurance professionals therefore this guidance is by no means complete or definitive. It’s merely based on our experience of running community repair events and may be helpful to others. Every group will have its own way of working through these issues, and may need to seek more expert advice.
You have probably seen our Safety Guidelines - they are quite thorough but can also be a little too complex for people who have less experience with electronics.
Your role as a Restart Party Host is to facilitate a safe environment and minimise risk, by coordinating with your volunteers and participants.
- Understanding the risks of Restart Parties
- How to minimise risk
- Limiting liability through insurance
- Finding an insurance provider
1. Understanding the risks of Restart Parties
If you feel it might help to learn more about how electronics work, and how this relates to safety, we have a growing body of information in plain language on our Wiki.
As might be obvious, our main concern is avoiding risk of electrical shock.
It really helps to separate devices brought to Restart Parties into two categories, and treat the two categories quite separately as we are hosting an event and assigning volunteers to repairs.
We like to ask new repairers about their background and skill set, and even if they say they are confident with a wide range of devices, we get them started on battery-powered devices.
Battery powered devices: less risk
As long as volunteers and participants are not disassembling the external power supplies of these devices, it is safe for them to be opened and tinkered with. These are mostly below 20-25V, including: most battery operated devices, especially mobile phones, tablets, torches and most other battery operated devices, laptops (but not their power supply) and computer and gaming peripherals (e.g. mice, keyboards, controllers, webcams, etc.).
- The power supply for these devices
- Batteries require caution. Lithium batteries present a fire risk
- Digital cameras, or external flashes, which have capacitors that can remain charged
Mains devices: heightened risk
Only people who have background working on mains-powered electricals should be assigned repairs involving disassembly and tinkering on these. Experienced volunteers can vet new volunteers, confirming their knowledge and ability on mains devices before allowing them to get started straight away.
- A repair such as changing a fuse or refitting a plug obviously does not carry with it the same risk (although these devices should be inspected like any other upon completion).
- Inexperienced volunteers and participants can potentially help disassemble - but in disassembly, they should be guided by experienced volunteers, not going near power supplies or near capacitors, such as in hi-fi components
2. How to minimise risk
These are the ways which we have found to reduce risk at Restart Parties.
Write a risk assessment!
This is the foundation of how to control risk and it’s not as daunting as it sounds. In its simplest form a risk assessment is written evidence that you have thought about and tried to reduce the potential hazards of the activity you plan to do and the space you plan to do it in. For example, let’s say your venue has no power outlets close to the tables and you plan to use extension cables to work-round this. Your risk assessment would identify the risk of people tripping on cables and you would decide to reduce this risk by running them around the edges of the room and tape them down. Follow our template to complete your own risk assessment.
Know your Restarter volunteers
Sign them in they arrive, make a note of what their skills are; most importantly note who is competent repairing mains devices. Make sure all volunteers have read and signed our Safety Guidelines. Do not be embarrassed or afraid to confirm this information at every event. The Fixometer is a handy way to keep an to date list of Restarters who volunteer at your events and their skills.
Designate one or more experienced Restarters as Safety Focal Points
These Restarters will help at set up and during the event support Restart Party Hosts. They can also help vet new volunteers who would like to repair mains devices, and they help with any safety-related questions in relation to mains devices.
Assign fixes appropriately
When you assign fixes to volunteers make sure they are working within their skills and that they understand the processes and tools they are using. You might need to remind Restarters to always stay within their comfort zones. Make sure that you are clear on distinction between battery-powered and mains devices (see above), and exercise judgement in assigning mains devices because the hazards are greater.
We don’t work on higher powered / higher voltage appliances
These include washers, dryers, cooking ranges, air conditioning units or microwaves. When punters arrive with these items politely tell them that we can’t work on them safely.
Safety test devices
Doing this before and after repair is best practice - and groups should aspire to buy or borrow a tester. In the UK, we use PAT testers. However, a careful visual inspection of a “fixed” device is a very good stop-gap.
3. Limiting liability through insurance
Even if you do everything right there is always a risk of accidental injury or damage to a punter, volunteer or property which can result in a compensation claim and legal costs. We live in a litigious society and we cannot plan for every last eventuality. But we can effectively limit our liability at Restart Parties through insurance. Navigating the world of insurance for community self-repair events can be tricky so here is some guidance to make it easier.
What is public liability insurance?
This cover can protect you against the financial implications of a third party - member of the public, volunteer - who suffers an injury or damage to their property as a result of a mistake that you make. You will usually have to pay an excess with the insurance covering any damages above that amount.
Public liability isn’t a legal requirement in the UK but many organisations who work with members of the public chose to have it because it protects against crippling high costs of compensation claims or getting sued.
We require events called a “Restart Party” to be covered by public liability insurance. (N.b. with over 600 events around the world, no claims have yet to be made.)
What is product liability insurance?
This cover can protect you from the financial implications of claims for accidental damage to third party property. Again it is not required by UK law but may give you peace of mind.
What is employers liability insurance?
UK specific advice: This is the only cover that is compulsory under UK law but only for businesses that employ staff. Some insurance brokers define Volunteers as Employed Persons and therefore provide cover under the Employer’s Liability. This is currently a developing area of legislation and the Charity Commission advises Volunteers be protected as Employees.
If you choose not to take out employers liability insurance it is important to clarify with your broker that Restarter volunteers can be considered ‘third parties’ and any injury to them or their property will be covered under your pubic liability insurance.
4. Finding an insurance provider
It’s important that whichever broker you work with understands the community self-repair activities you intend to run.
They will want to hear about risk mitigation so emphasise to your broker that Restart Parties are community learning events, and disclaimers (both online and at the event) indicate that members of the public take ultimate responsibility for his or her data and device.
Public liability insurance will cover you for liability during the event - so brokers are most concerned with immediate risks to people at Restart Parties.
Based on our own experience, and what other groups have shared with us, most insurance brokers want to know that you have assessed safety risks at Restart Parties, and you have a system to deal with them.
- Explain to them that you have Safety Focal Points (sharing their experience and qualifications if needed) and their role
- Walk them through your group’s process for briefing and vetting new volunteers
- Show them Safety Guidelines to be adhered to at events
It is possible that your broker will not cover you for work on mains devices initially. Do not despair. A group can easily start - and provide a great service - working on battery-powered devices.
Read the fine print carefully. If you have questions about “exemptions” it is worth finding somebody who has more experience with this and confirming Restart Parties are not excluded on some technicality.
UK-specific insurance advice
We work with an insurance provider called CaSE who understands the nature of our events, they can offer a policy to cover your groups repair activities but, of course, you can always shop around and test the market.
Cover offered by CaSE can be modelled on The Restart Project’s own cover but will need to be negotiated independently between your group and CaSE.
Going for a different broker?
No matter who you approach, be ready with the following information:
Number of repair events held per year
Maximum attendance (either total or at ‘any one time’)
Number of skilled and competent volunteers who will be working at any one time (base this on your list of volunteers and knowledge of the venue size)
Group constitution: groups don’t necessarily have to be incorporated as a charity, a social enterprise or anything else
Bank account: strictly speaking groups should have their own linked bank account to pay the premium.
There are a number of brokers who work with smaller charities and even associations. We are much better off working through these brokers than those that work with large charities or government.
UK specific advice:
Do you have questions?
We’ve closed this discussion just to make sure we avoid legal issues. But if you want to talk this through, feel free to contact @james privately.