Work health and safety laws

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.

The introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) brought South Australia's work health and safety laws in line with most other states and territories in Australia (Western Australia and Victoria excluded).

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 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 has been 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. It is available on the Safe Work Australia website.

Further information

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

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.