Health and Safety for Volunteers
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) raised awareness and put greater focus on an area that many organisations had not taken seriously enough in the past. There are some important exceptions in the HSWA related to volunteers but still fundamental obligations for the safety of all people involved in any organisation.
Know Your Obligations
It is important to understand how the legislation applies to your organisation and the specific duties in relation to volunteers. Key aspects to consider include:
- If your organisation is a PCBU (Person conducting a business or undertaking – including a Not-For-Profit undertaking) you have duties under the HSWA
- Duties for the safety of Volunteer Workers are similar to other workers
- There is a primary duty of care for Other Volunteers who are not Volunteer Workers
- Volunteer Associations do not have health and safety duties under HSWA
- Volunteer Officers in a PCBU have a due diligence duty to ensure compliance with the HSWA but cannot be prosecuted for failing to meet it
- Volunteer Workers have the same duties as other workers
- Other Volunteers have the same duty as all other persons at a workplace
There is further information and definitions of these terms on the Worksafe Website.
What is Reasonably Practicable?
Consider what is reasonably practical in terms of health and safety. Assess the nature of risks in the organisation or activity, the likelihood of them occurring, the severity of potential harm that could arise, and what can be done to eliminate or minimise the risks. We can’t eliminate every risk so what can we reasonably do?
Take an Integrated Approach
Good health and safety processes are important and should be integrated into your business processes. They need to be supported by a positive culture, led from the top, which reinforces the importance of safety. Show that you have considered the safety of your volunteers in:
- Induction activities and information
- Training for volunteers
- Event planning
- Communication from the organisation and leaders
- Involving volunteers in identifying and minimising hazards
- Recording and reporting appropriate health and safety data
Most importantly, remember that health and safety should not just be about compliance but a strong commitment to do everything we reasonably can to ensure the safety of all people in our organisations, on our premises or at our events.