Work health and safety laws

New Work Health and Safety laws - information for volunteers and volunteer organisations

Everyone has a right to be safe at work, including volunteers. Volunteers play a vital role in communities across Australia and make significant contributions by carrying out unpaid work for a variety of organisations every day.

On 1 November 2012, the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 (SA) passed the South Australian Parliament meaning that from 1 January 2013 South Australia will be joining the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and the Commonwealth in harmonising its Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.

The introduction of new WHS laws in South Australia will mean that its work health and safety laws are consistent with most other states and territories in Australia (Western Australia and Victoria excluded).

The new WHS laws provide clarity for volunteers and volunteering-involving organisations.

Volunteer associations, whether they be incorporated or unincorporated, which are wholly made up of volunteers working for a community purpose, where none of the volunteers employ any workers, will not fall within the scope of the new WHS laws. Therefore, volunteer directors, officers and volunteer workers of these associations cannot be prosecuted under the new WHS laws.

It is only when a volunteer association, incorporated or unincorporated, employs any person to carry out work for the association, that the association will be a person conducting a business or undertaking and will owe health and safety duties to all workers, including volunteers. In this case volunteers are given the same status and therefore the same protections, as all other workers. A volunteer director/officer cannot be prosecuted for failing to comply with their officer duties under the WHS laws. This immunity from prosecution 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 fail to meet their duties as a worker to take reasonable care. This is similar to the situation under the old occupational health and safety laws.

It is important to note, however, that the new laws provide clarity for volunteer associations in that there is no longer a requirement to appoint and train a responsible officer.

Resource kit for volunteers

A special Resource Kit for volunteers was recently developed by Safe Work Australia, in conjunction with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Not-for-Profit Reform Council Working Group, to help volunteers understand what the new WHS laws will mean for them. The Working Group was comprised of representatives from peak volunteer organisations, including Volunteering SA&NT, Uniting Care Australia, Anglicare Australia, The Smith Family, The Red Cross, Scouts Australia, Surf Life Saving Australia, and the Australian Sports Commission.

The Resource Kit includes a range of useful resources for volunteers and volunteer organisations - including an essential guide, PowerPoint, FAQs, a Fact Sheet and more - and is available by visiting the Safe Work Australia website.

Further information

For any questions or queries about how you or your organisation might be affected by the new WHS laws, you can contact Safe Work Australia by phoning their Volunteer Assistance Line on +61 2 6240 4990 or emailing

For more information on the duties for volunteers and volunteer organisations under the WHS laws, you can also contact South Australia's work health and safety regulator, Safe Work SA, by phoning 1300 365 255 or visiting their website.