Volunteers perform an essential range of activities across many areas of our communities without pay or reward,

In some circumstances work health and safety laws apply to volunteers and volunteer associations. But this isn’t always the case.

Some of the areas volunteers might be engaged in include community care, sport, social justice associations, emergency services or the arts. They might collect donations, mentor or serve as volunteer directors of associations.Volunteers are regarded as “workers” under the WHS legislation .

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‘We need to ensure that not only our staff, but also our volunteers go home in the same shape that they came to work in.’

Mick Wilson

Community Liaison Officer and WHS Committee member, Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service

When WHS laws apply

Often a volunteer association includes paid workers.

If your volunteer association employs a paid worker, you have work health and safety duties and obligations, including a primary duty of care, to all your workers and volunteers.

In this case, both workers and volunteers have health and safety obligations at work. This includes taking reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others.

When WHS laws don’t apply to volunteers

If your volunteer association is a group of volunteers working together for one or more community purposes and your association has no paid employees, the WHS laws do not apply to your association.

However, it is still a good idea for all volunteers and volunteer associations to comply with WHS laws by:

  • taking reasonable care for their own health and safety
  • take reasonable care of the health and safety of others
  • follow any reasonable instructions or procedures given by their volunteer association.

Volunteer officers

Volunteer officers of a business with paid staff must exercise due diligence to ensure the business complies with health and safety duties.

However, volunteer officers cannot be prosecuted for an offence for breaching a health and safety duty, except in their capacity as a worker.

Best practice

It is in everyone's interests to maintain a safe environment when carrying out volunteering work. 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 your volunteers is protected
  • retaining your volunteers which avoids recruiting and training new people
  • enhancing your status as a responsible community association
  • reducing risks to the reputation of your association.
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