Volunteers in the workplace

 - are they covered by OHS Legislation?

Under Victoria's OHS legislation, volunteers are NOT employees* - in fact, under the 2007 OHS Regulations, the definition of 'emergency service employee' was changed to make it clear that the regulations do not apply to volunteers.

Nevertheless, volunteers are covered by the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004. The employer has a duty to ensure that no activity of his/her business puts the health or safety of people other than employees at risk. The Act states:

Section 23: Duties of employers to other persons

(1) An employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer.

Section 24: Duties of self-employed persons to other persons

(1) A self-employed person must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the self-employed person.

These sections seek to protect the health and safety of volunteers and others - such as visitors, students and parents in schools, customers, delivery staff, people next door to or down the street from the workplace, pedestrians walking past, and so on.

The duties of employers and self-employed persons towards these people are limited to ensuring that the activities of the company or the workers or the individual do not affect them (their health and/or safety) negatively. These duties are not as extensive as those towards employees or contractors - which extend to things such as providing information and training, monitoring health and safety, keeping records and more. (See Duties of Employers for more details).

WorkSafe Victoria has produced a number of publications for volunteer organisations (there may be others, do a search of the WorkSafe site):

* NOTE: Under the Model Work Health Safety Act (and therefore under Comcare and in the states and territories that have introduced the model Act and regulations - NOT Victoria) anyone who undertakes any work at a workplace, including voluntary work, is now included in the definition of 'worker'.  This also applies to work experience students.

SafeWork Australia has a topic page on Volunteers and also some publications:

Last amended September 2017

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