Safeguarding volunteers’ health and safety

There is some concern in the not-for-profit sector regarding how the nationally harmonised health and safety legislation affects volunteers. Certainly, volunteers are included under the legislation, but only in organisations that have paid workers as well as volunteers; those organisations are obliged to ensure their volunteers are as safe as their paid employees.

People are considered to be volunteers even if they are receiving reimbursement for out of pocket expenses, provided they’re receiving no other payment or financial reward. But volunteers don’t come under the Act when they are engaged in activities of a purely social, domestic or recreational nature, such as working at a church or community fete or looking after a sick relative at home.

Safe Work Australia advises that the process for safeguarding volunteers is the same as managing health and safety risks for employees:

  1. Identify the hazards.
  2. Assess the risks: How could the hazards cause harm? What is the nature of the harm? How serious could the harm be? What is the likelihood of it happening.
  3. Control the risks in the most reasonably practical and effective way possible.
  4. Monitor and review the control measures to ensure they work as planned.

Volunteers also have similar responsibilities to employees. They must:

  • take care of their own health and safety
  • ensure their conduct does not adversely affect the health and safety of others
  • comply with reasonable instructions intended to protect their health and safety
  • cooperate with the organisation’s health and safety policies and procedures.

You can find more information from Safe Work Australia.