Volunteering

Volunteers work without being paid a wage or salary, they participate in many areas of society and perform an essential range of activities.

Often volunteers will join together to form a volunteer organisation or association which can sometimes include paid workers.

A volunteer organisation that employs a paid worker is a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and has work health and safety (WHS) duties to all its workers, including its volunteers.

A volunteer association that has a community purpose and doesn’t employ anyone to carry out work for them is not a PCBU and so is not subject to the PCBU duties under WHS laws. However, even if they don’t employ workers and fall within the definition of a volunteer association it’s still a good idea to comply with WHS duties.

Volunteers

Volunteers participate in many areas of society including:

  • community health care
  • heritage and arts
  • environment and conservation
  • emergency services
  • education
  • social justice
  • sports.

They also perform an essential range of activities such as:

  • collecting donations
  • organising school camps and sporting events
  • providing support services
  • coaching and mentoring
  • serving as volunteer directors.

Payments for out-of-pocket expenses (like travel and meals) incurred when carrying out volunteer work will not change a person’s volunteer status.

If you are a volunteer carrying out work for a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you will have the duties of a worker under the WHS Act and the PCBU will owe you health and safety duties.

Some things you can do include:

  • take reasonable care for your own health and safety
  • take reasonable care your acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health and safety of others
  • follow any reasonable instructions or procedures given by your volunteer organisation/association

The duties of workers are based on taking reasonable care for the health and safety of yourself and others, something you should already be practising day-to-day in all of your volunteering activities.

More information is available in Safe Work Australia's guide for volunteers.

Volunteer organisations (PCBUs)

A volunteer organisation that employs a paid worker is a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).  This means the organisation has responsibilities under WHS laws, including a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of volunteers and other workers.

For example, a local respite home with paid employees and which engages a volunteer to take frail aged residents on an outing is a PCBU with responsibilities for all its workers (including the volunteer) under the WHS Act.

A volunteer in these circumstances is a worker and has the same WHS obligations as a worker.

These can include:

  • take reasonable care for your own health and safety
  • take reasonable care your acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health and safety of others
  • follow any reasonable instructions or procedures given by your volunteer organisation

More information is available in Safe Work Australia's guide for volunteer organisations.

Volunteer associations

A volunteer association means a group of volunteers working together for one or more community purposes where none of the volunteers (whether alone or jointly with any other volunteers), employs anyone to carry out work for their association.

It may be incorporated or unincorporated.

For example, your local sporting association coaches and referees junior sports matches on a Saturday morning. The coaches and referees are parents of players and they're not paid.  So your sporting association is not subject to work health and safety laws because it has a community purpose and there are no paid workers.

Other examples of volunteer associations that might not employ workers can include:

  • local community care groups
  • resident groups or committees
  • literary and art clubs
  • bushwalking clubs
  • garden clubs

Status of volunteers

Volunteers doing work for a volunteer association are not considered workers and are exempt from WHS laws. However it's in everyone's interests to maintain a safe environment when they carry out volunteer work.

That's why we recommend you comply with the WHS legislation as your standard for health and safety. Your volunteer association will benefit by:

  • knowing the health and safety of their volunteers is protected
  • retaining their volunteers which avoids recruiting and training new people
  • enhancing their status as a responsible community association
  • reducing risks to the reputation of the association

A person who volunteers to carry out work for an employer or business (or other person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU)) is a worker under the WHS Act.  The PCBU will owe them health and safety duties under the WHS Act.

Volunteer officers

Volunteer officers of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must exercise due diligence to ensure the organisation complies with work health and safety duties.

However they cannot be prosecuted for an offence for breaching a health and safety duty, except in their capacity as workers or others at the workplace.

More information

Safe Work Australia has additional information on volunteers.