Health & Safety

Having chosen a place for your tidy up, visit the site and carry out a full risk assessment. It is important that you consider all of the possible risks to you and your volunteers.

Consider the Risks

When assessing the risks, look for the following hazards:

  • Unidentified cans or canisters, oil drums, poisons, insecticides, clinical waste, other hazardous substances, broken glass, condoms, syringes, etc
  • Deep or fast flowing water, currents or tides, steep, slippery or unstable banks, sharp rocks, mud holes, derelict buildings, busy roads, electric fences (which are identified by yellow warning signs) etc.

If the area carries too many risks you may want to choose another place to carry out your event.


To avoid illness from poor hygiene, all those taking part in the clean up must:

  • Wear heavy duty protective gloves at all times
  • Cover any cuts, however minor, with surgical tape or waterproof plaster
  • Avoid rubbing the mouth and eyes whilst working
  • Wash hands and forearms before eating, drinking, smoking or going to the toilet

Heavy Lifting

Lifting heavy items could be hazardous and volunteers should be discouraged from lifting large or heavy items.

  • Once large or heavy items have been identified you should consider whether it is practical for volunteers to remove the given objects or whether it would be best removed by the local council
  • If you decide that the item can be lifted by volunteers then this should be done at the end of the tidy up through a separate and co-ordinated effort
  • It is also good practice to tie rope to large objects or use a grappling hook if a large object needs to be lifted

Hazardous Waste

Make sure everyone is aware of potentially dangerous items which they should not pick up.

If very large or dangerous items such as unidentified drums, cans or canisters of chemicals, poisons or insecticides are present contact the Environment Agency on 0800 807 060. If syringes are spotted at any stage during your tidy up, do not attempt to move them yourself. Make a note of their location and inform your local council.

Natural Dangers

Avoid holding your tidy up near potentially dangerous places such as steep slippery banks, fast flowing or deep water or derelict buildings.

Line pins and tape can be used to section off any potentially dangerous areas. For a large operation, a loud hailer could be used to warn participants to stay in a designated area.

Other Dangers

  • Giant Hogweed is an invasive plant species which grows on waste ground and riverbanks. It forms dense colonies that suppress the growth of native plants and grasses, leaving the banks bare of vegetation in winter and increasing the risk of erosion and recolonisation from seeds washed downstream. Giant hogweed can cause harm to people and animals. Great care should be taken when working near this weed and it should not be touched at any time. Seek immediate medical advice if skin comes into contact with the weed and irritation, rashes or blistering occurs.

To find out more about invasive plant species and how you can help the charity Plantlife to tackle this issue.

  • Weil's Disease (Leotospirosis) is a very rare infection carried in rats urine and can be fatal. The symptoms include high temperature, severe headache, flu-like illness or muscle pains. They will appear 3 to 19 days after exposure to contaminated water. It must be treated early.
  • If you discover fly-tipping report it to your local council for cleaning up. If you see someone fly-tipping or come across hazardous waste report it to the Environment Agency on their 24 hour hotline 0800 807 060 or alternatively contact the police.

Insurance Cover

Obtaining public liability insurance is very important and strongly recommended. This will provide cover for your legal liability arising from accidental damage or injury that may occur during the event, including damage or injury to a member of the public or their property.

If you are an individual organising a tidy up, your current household insurance may cover you for public liability. You will need to check your policy to ensure you are covered. If not you will need to take out a separate public liability insurance.

If you represent an organisation such as a local council or school, it is possible that you already have insurance in place but it is important to check that litter picking activity is covered under such insurance. If not, a suitable extension should be made to the policy. If you are unable to obtain public liability insurance for your event please contact BTCV on 01302 388 883 as they can provide group insurance or visit