Welcome to this presentation on Work Health and Safety.
It contains important information on work health and safety laws and what they
mean for you as a volunteer.
The Essential Guide to Work Health and Safety for Volunteers supports this
presentation and provides useful additional advice about the WHS laws. It is
available from www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au
Now let’s get started...
Everyone has a right to be safe at work, including volunteers. Volunteers play
a vital role in communities across Australia every day and Work Health and
Safety (or WHS) laws help to protect volunteers when they are carrying out
Work Health and Safety laws used to be different in each jurisdiction. In some
jurisdictions volunteers were given the same protections as paid workers in the
workplace and in other jurisdictions volunteers were considered visitors or
‘others’ in the workplace.
On 1 January 2012 the Commonwealth, and most States and Territories
adopted new Work Health and Safety laws. The same WHS laws will be
adopted by Tasmania by 2013. Under these new laws volunteers are given
the same status and therefore the same protections, as all other workers.
Today’s presentation will cover all of the areas listed on this slide. We will
consider how the new WHS laws work and what they mean for volunteers.
Even if you volunteer in Victoria, Western Australia or South Australia where
the new laws have not yet been implemented – don’t worry – the information in
this presentation is still useful to you and will help you understand your work
health and safety rights and responsibilities.
What is work health and safety?
You may also know Work Health and Safety as ‘Occupational Health and
Safety’ or ‘OHS’. They are one and the same. Work health and safety affects
every Australian workplace.
Whether a person is a volunteer, a paid worker, a work experience student or
a contractor (or any other type of worker you can think of) they have a right to
have their health and safety protected when they are carrying out work. People
who are affected by work, for instance clients you assist when you are
volunteering, also have a right to have their health and safety protected or not
put at risk by the work being carried out.
Organisations like ours who engage workers of all types also have work health
and safety rights. Primarily, organisations have a right to expect that all
workers and visitors to their workplaces will take care and co-operate with
work health and safety rules.
Work health and safety laws protect these rights.
Work Health and Safety Laws
All Australian States, Territories and the Commonwealth have laws that aim to
prevent workplace death, injury and illness. But, as mentioned at the beginning
of this presentation, work health and safety laws have recently started to
become harmonised across Australia.
The main objective of the new WHS laws is to provide a balanced and
nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and
workplaces. Some of the ways the laws do this is by:
• protecting workers, including volunteers, from harm by requiring duty
holders to eliminate or minimise risks associated with work, whether that
work is paid or unpaid
• providing for fair and effective representation, consultation, cooperation
and issue resolution in relation to work health and safety at work
• promoting the provision of advice and education about work health and
• providing a framework for continuous improvement and progressively
higher standards of work health and safety.
The main responsibility for ensuring health and safety at work is placed on
persons conducting businesses or undertakings, or PCBUs. A PCBU is the
organisation who you work – or volunteer - for. For simplicity, I’ll refer to them
as the organisation (rather than the PCBU).
Work health and safety laws require organisations to think about and
implement ways to make sure its workers, including volunteers, are provided
the highest level of protection against harm to their health, welfare and safety
at work, so far is reasonably practicable.
The new work health and safety laws means that now organisations must
ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their
volunteers, just as they do for their other workers.
This duty on an organisation is not entirely new. In Queensland, the Northern
Territory, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory the previous work
health and safety laws protected the health and safety of volunteers
specifically. In other jurisdictions volunteers were also afforded protections, but
as other persons at a workplace.
Each jurisdiction still regulates and enforces its own WHS laws but now
volunteers are given the same protections as paid workers across Australia.
Who is covered by WHS laws:
So – Who is covered by work health and safety laws?
As noted in the previous slide, PCBUs (or organisations) that employ paid
workers are covered by WHS laws. They have the primary duty of care to
ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its
workers, including volunteers.
The organisation you are volunteering for is probably a person conducting a
business or undertaking for the purpose of work health and safety and has
duties under WHS law. That is why we are talking about this today.
Workers are also covered by WHS laws. The WHS Act includes volunteers in
the definition of workers. This means that a person who carries out work in any
capacity for an organisation that employs paid staff and is not paid for their
work is a volunteer worker and is covered by the WHS laws. Volunteers are
still volunteers if they are reimbursed for any out of pocket expenses. Workers,
including volunteers have a duty to take reasonable care. What it means to
take reasonable care is explained later in this presentation.
Organisations also have a duty to ensure that the health and safety of other
persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the business or
Who is not covered by WHS laws.
Volunteer Associations are not covered by the WHS laws so do not have work
health and safety duties.
Volunteer Associations are groups of people working together for one or more
community purposes that do not employ any paid workers, for example a local
group of chess players or a family history society. Whether the organisation
you volunteer for is a volunteer association or not will depend on whether it
employs any paid workers.
If you volunteer for a volunteer association you also do not have WHS duties.
But you should still always take care to do what the organisation has given you
to do in a safe way.
What you need to know:
As I mentioned earlier, the organisation that you volunteer for has the primary
duty under WHS laws to protect the health and safety of people who are at the
workplace or who may be affected by the work that is being done, so far as is
This means that the organisation you volunteer for must do what is, or what
was at a particular time, reasonably able to be done to ensure your health and
safety. To do this we need to consider a number of factors including:
• what could happen to you at the workplace,
• how likely it is to happen,
• how bad might it be if it does happen,
• what can be done to minimise or eliminate the risk, and
• the cost of eliminating or minimising the risk.
The organisation does not need to guarantee your safety but they need to do
all that is reasonably practicable. Sometimes this might mean that they simply
provide you with information and instructions on how to do your job and at
other times this might mean that the organisation does a lot more, such as
providing work specific training and protective equipment.
Under WHS law ‘health’ means physical and mental health. The organisation
you are volunteering for has to ensure that when you are doing work for them
you are safe from psychological injury including from things like bullying, so far
as is reasonably practicable.
The organisation must also manage risks by eliminating risks to health and
safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to
eliminate risks, they must minimise those risks so far as is reasonably
The organisation you volunteer for may help to ensure your safety by doing a
wide variety of things. This may include:
providing you with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, where required
• giving you instructions or training on how to do your work safely
• ensuring that the machinery or plant that you use meets safety standards
or requirements, or
• confirming that you have the relevant qualifications to carry out the work
they give you. For example, first aid certificates or a current and valid
What you need to do:
YOU - as a volunteer - also have a duty under the WHS Act to take reasonable
care for your own health and safety. The duty of a volunteer worker also
means you must:
• take reasonable care to ensure you don’t affect the health and safety of
others, for example other volunteers, members of the public or clients
you may be assisting
carry out your tasks in a safe way
• follow the reasonable work health and safety instructions given to you by
the organisation you volunteer for, and
• cooperate with the reasonable work health and safety policies and
procedures of the organisation you volunteer for.
Taking reasonable care means doing what a reasonable person would do in
the circumstances having regards to things like:
• your knowledge
• your role
• yours skills and the resources available to you
• your qualifications
• the information that you have, and
• the consequences to health and safety of a failure to act in the
Taking reasonable care:
Taking reasonable care is simple. Just:
• follow all reasonable instructions given to you as far as you are able to,
• cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure that the organisation
you volunteer for has given you, and
• talk to your managers if you have any concerns about your health and
safety or that of others in relation to your work.
Other ways of making sure you take reasonable care are:
• carrying out tasks within the role you have been given
• not doing tasks that you do not have the skills to undertake, and
• don’t do anything that would be obviously unsafe.
Some examples of the things you can do to make sure what you do is safe
Reading, understanding and cooperating with the policies and procedures
provided to you by the organisation you volunteer for.
• If you are tired and your volunteer work involves driving, call the
organisation and say that you are unable to volunteer today.
• If you are driving a client around in a car, ensure that you and your client
wear your seatbelts and obey the road rules.
• If you are teaching someone to ride a bike, make sure they wear a
helmet and sturdy shoes.
Now let’s work through the dot points on this slide...
(give the listener some time to work through the points on the slide – or say
‘Pause the podcast so that you can work on the points on the slide’)
WHS laws and volunteers
If you as a volunteer do the things listed on this slide when carrying out work
for an organisation you cannot be fined or prosecuted under the WHS Act.
In some jurisdictions work health and safety duties have been placed on
volunteers for more than two decades but there have been no reported
prosecutions of volunteers under those laws. Likewise, there have been no
prosecutions of volunteers under the new WHS laws.
Prosecutions against paid workers in the past have been rare and only in
relation to serious incidents where there was a high degree of personal
It is expected that WHS Regulators will take the same approach under the new
WHS laws in relation to paid workers and volunteers and that prosecutions will
be as rare as they have been in the past.
Talking about Work Health and Safety:
So the organisation you volunteer for has a duty to ensure so far as is
reasonably practicable, your health and safety and you have a duty as a
volunteer worker to take reasonable care.
Organisations must also consult with all their workers, including volunteers,
about work health and safety matters. Consultation must include giving you
opportunity to provide ideas about how to make you and others as safe as
possible when you are volunteering. This can be done in various ways.
For example, an organisation may have a large number of full-time workers
where structured arrangements involving health and safety committees may be
suitable. On occasions the business may also engage contractors, on-hire
workers, or volunteers to carry out specific tasks, where arrangements such as
‘toolbox talks’ (short discussions on specific health and safety topics relevant
to the task) may be the most practical way to consult them.
Other ways to consult include:
• Sending out regular newsletters via mail or email which feature work
health and safety news, information and updates.
• Regularly updating the volunteer section of its notice board or website
with information, including its latest safe work policies and procedures
• Having a suggestions email box for you to send suggestions to about
ways to do work safely and other matters
• Holding regular meetings to talk with you about the work that you do and
how to do it in the safest way. This may include information about
emergency plans, exit routes and facilities, and
• Holding toolbox talks where specific health and safety topics relevant to
the task at hand are discussed.
Some workplaces may need a mix of consultation mechanisms to suit different
types of workers and working arrangements.
Organisations do not need to establish new consultation arrangements if there
are already regular and effective discussions between managers or
supervisors and workers, for example weekly team meetings or regular
updates provided on a website or via a newsletter.
Working together is the very best way to ensure that we can protect
everyone’s health and safety.
What if something happens - Incident Notification:
While it is unlikely, if anything does happen when you are volunteering let the
organisation you volunteer for know immediately. This is as easy as telling
your supervisor or manager.
WHS law requires the organisation you volunteer for to let its WHS Regulator
know if any notifiable incidents occur as soon as possible.
A ‘notifiable incident’ is a serious incident relating to the carrying out of work of
the organisation and involves:
• the death of a person
• the serious injury or illness of a person – this will usually require
immediate medical treatment, or
• a dangerous incident that exposes people to serious risk, for example
the collapse of a structure or the accidental release or spill of a
To assist in determining what type of incident must be notified,
‘serious injury or illness’ and ‘dangerous incident’ are defined in the
model WHS Act.
If something happens that is not as serious as a notifiable incident
you should still let the organisation know. They may even have
policies requiring you to report these things.
There are also duties for organisations to develop procedures for resolving
health and safety issues that might arise, for example when there is
disagreement about how best to deal with an identified hazard or risk. In these
situations, all involved parties must communicate or meet with each other to
attempt to resolve the issue.
If a work health and safety matter is still not resolved after following the
procedure, an inspector may be called to attend the workplace to assist in
resolving the issue.
Some volunteers may sit on the board of an organisation or be in another role
where they make, or participate in making, decisions that affect the whole or a
substantial part of the organisation they volunteer for. The decisions they make
may also have the capacity to significantly affect the organisation’s financial
standing. Only if a volunteer makes, or participates in making, these kinds of
decisions are they are an officer under the WHS Act.
Under WHS law an officer of an organisation is not necessarily a volunteer or
other worker who has ‘officer’ in their job title, for example, first aid officer,
health and safety officer or administrative officer.
Duties of volunteer officers
If you are a volunteer officer you need to exercise due diligence to ensure that
the organisation complies with its health and safety duties. This means that
you must ensure that the organisation has appropriate systems of work in
place and you must actively monitor and evaluate health and safety
management within the organisation.
Exercising due diligence as an officer also means that you must take
reasonable steps to:
• continuously learn about and keep up to date with work health and
• have an understanding of the nature of the work the organisation does
and stay aware of the risks workers and volunteers may face when
working for the organisation.
Officers might meet their duties by doing things like:
• talking about work health and safety matters at board meetings, making
sure there are processes for reporting incidents and consultation with
volunteers and other workers about work health and safety issues,
• asking about the organisations safe practice procedures and policies
and checking that they help the organisation meet its WHS duties,
• finding out about and remaining aware of what workers, including
volunteers, do within the organisation and the dangers they might face at
• seeking advice about specific work health and safety issues.
A volunteer officer cannot be prosecuted for failing to comply with their officer
duties under WHS law. This immunity for volunteer officers is designed to
ensure that voluntary participation at the officer level is not discouraged. A
volunteer officer can however be prosecuted in their capacity as a worker if
they don’t take reasonable care as a worker.
Things to remember:
So there are a few things to remember about Work Health and Safety:
Firstly: The WHS laws are designed to provide you, as a volunteer, with the
highest level of protection. The organisation you volunteer for has
responsibility to ensure it does all it reasonably can to keep you safe when you
are working for them. If an organisation is found to have not met this duty, they
may be fined or prosecuted.
Secondly: A safe workplace is most effectively achieved if everyone
contributes to finding ways to manage risks and works together to keep the
And lastly: If you take reasonable care as a volunteer worker you can’t be
prosecuted or fined and have nothing to fear.
In fact, prosecution of volunteers is quite unlikely under WHS laws. In some
jurisdictions work health and safety duties have been placed on volunteers for
more than two decades but there have been no reported prosecutions of
volunteers under those laws.
For more information on WHS laws, see the Essential Guide to Work Health
and Safety for Volunteers , located on the Safe Work Australia website.
If you would like more information about Work Health and Safety and WHS
laws you can always ask the organisation you volunteer for. It will have specific
information about what it does and how it does it safely.
You can also ask your state or territory Work Health and Safety Regulator or
look up the Safe Work Australia website. It has a range of great information on
work health and safety.