What does your organisation need to do?

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What your organisation needs to do

If the work health and safety (WHS) laws apply to your organisation it must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all of its workers, including volunteers. This means that the organisation must provide the same protections to its volunteer workers as it does to its paid workers. The protection covers the physical safety and mental health of all workers, including volunteers.

This primary duty on an organisation is qualified by ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. This means the organisation does not have to guarantee that no harm will occur, but must do what is reasonably able to be done to ensure health and safety. If your organisation is run by volunteers, this is a factor that will be taken into account in determining what is reasonably practicable for the organisation to do in any given circumstance.

Other factors that will be taken into account in determining what the organisation is required to do to protect its workers, including volunteers, are:

  • the type of business or undertaking it is
  • the type of work that the organisation carries out
  • the nature of the risks associated with that work and the likelihood of injury or illness occurring
  • what can be done to eliminate or minimise those risks, and
  • the location or environment where the work is carried out.

The primary duty of an organisation includes ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety
  • the provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures and safe systems of work
  • the safe use, handling and storage of plant, structures and substances
  • the provision of adequate facilities for the welfare at work of workers, including volunteers, for example toliets, first aid facilities, and
  • the provision of information, training and instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from their work.

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Managing health and safety risks

A safe and healthy workplace does not happen by chance or guesswork. You have to think about what could go wrong at your workplace and what the consequences could be. Then you must do whatever you can—whatever is reasonably practicable—to eliminate or minimise the health and safety risks arising from the work your organisation undertakes.

The process of eliminating or minimising health and safety risks is called risk management and involves four steps:

  1. identifying hazards – find out what could cause harm
  2. assess the risks if necessary – understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening
  3. control risks – implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances, and
  4. review control measures – to ensure they are working as planned.

For further information refer to the Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks.

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Providing information, training and instruction to volunteers

Volunteer workers must be provided with information, training, instruction or supervision so they can carry out their work safely. Training and information should be tailored to the type of work your volunteers do and where they work.

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Talking about health and safety

The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act requires organisations to consult with workers, including volunteers, so far as reasonably practicable, about work health and safety matters that affect them.

Talking to your volunteers and other workers is a good way to ensure they contribute to the identification of hazards and the assessment and control of any risks they face when they carry out their work.

The aim of the consultation is to ensure that volunteer workers are given an opportunity to provide ideas about how to do their work safely. The organisation must take volunteer’s ideas into consideration when making decisions about safety in the workplace. Discussions about work health and safety can be carried out in various ways—there is no ‘one right way’ to talk about work health and safety. How your organisation does it will depend on factors like:

  • the nature and size of the organisation
  • the type of work that is carried out, and
  • the current engagement arrangements of workers, including volunteers.

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Finding the right consultative arrangements

Some workplaces may need a mix of consultation arrangements to suit the different types of workers and work situations within the organisation. For example, if there are a number of full-time workers in an organisation, structured arrangements involving a health and safety committee may be suitable. An organisation may also engage contractors, on-hire workers or volunteers to carry out specific tasks. In these situations ‘toolbox talks’ (short discussions on specific health and safety topics relevant to the task) may be the most practical way to consult.

Your organisation might already have established ways of talking to its workers, including volunteers, about work health and safety. This can continue under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act if your organisation and its workers, including volunteers, are happy with the arrangements. Ways your organisation might consult with its volunteers 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 workers, including volunteers to send suggestions to about ways to work safely and other matters
  • holding regular meetings to talk to volunteers about the work they do and how to do it in the safest way
  • holding short ‘toolbox talks’ where specific health and safety topics relevant to the task at hand are discussed, and
  • through Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs), if requested by workers.

If your organisation already consults with its workers, including volunteers, about work health and safety and everyone agrees it’s working well, that’s great! Your organisation can keep consulting that way.

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs)

A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is one way for workers to be represented in relation to work health and safety matters.

The appointment of HSRs is not mandatory, and a HSR is not obliged to undertake training. An untrained HSR can exercise most powers except for directing that unsafe work cease or issuing provisional improvement notices (PIN).

Your organisation must facilitate the election of a HSR if one or more of your workers, whether paid or volunteer, ask for a HSR to be elected to represent their health and safety matters. To ensure the best representation of workers, HSRs are elected to represent specific work groups. Work groups must be determined before a HSR can be elected. There is also the option for the work health and safety regulator to become involved if an agreement can’t be reached. The regulator can determine if it is not appropriate for there to be a HSR.


Health and Safety Committees (HSCs)

Health and Safety Committees (HSCs) are another way for larger organisations to facilitate consultation. HSCs are not mandatory but must be established within two months of a request to do so from a HSR or five or more workers, who may be volunteers. An organisation can also establish a HSC without a request from workers.

HSCs can assist in developing health and safety policies and procedures for the organisation.

You should also let your volunteer workers know what to do and who to contact if something happens when they are volunteering. If volunteers notice a health and safety matter that needs fixing they should know who to raise it with.

For more information about consultation refer to the:


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Notifying serious incidents

Your organisation is required to let your state or territory work health and safety regulator know if any notifiable incidents occur as a result of the work of the organisation as soon as it is reasonably able.

A notifiable incident is a serious incident that relates the work organisation caries out and involves:

  • the death of a person
  • the serious injury or illness of a person, or
  • a dangerous incident.

To help determine what type of incident must be notified, ‘serious injury or illness’ and ‘dangerous incident’ are defined in the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act.

A serious injury or illness is one that requires a person to have:

  • medical treatment within 48 hours of exposure to a substance
  • immediate treatment as an in-patient in a hospital, or
  • immediate treatment for a serious injury or illness such as a serious head injury, a serious burn or a spinal injury and a number of other injuries listed in the model WHS Act.

Importantly, it does not matter whether a person actually received the treatment referred to in this definition, just that the injury or illness could reasonably be considered to need the treatment.

A dangerous incident is an incident in a workplace that exposes a worker or any other person to a serious risk to their health or safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a number of risks. These risks include an uncontrolled escape, spillage or leakage of a substance, an electric shock, a fall from a height or the collapse of a structure.

If a notifiable incident occurs it is the responsibility of the person with management or control of a workplace to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the site is not disturbed until an inspector arrives or otherwise directs.

To ensure your organisation satisfies this duty, you could require your volunteer workers to inform your organisation immediately of any incidents that occur. While only incidents that cause serious injury or illness will be considered notifiable, being informed of any other incidents may help your organisation to comply with its duties under the WHS Act. Your organisation may even create and implement a policy or procedure for reporting of incidents. Talking with volunteers about the less serious incidents that might arise from the work of your organisation may also help to prevent more serious incidents from happening in the future.

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Resolving issues

The WHS Act outlines a process for the resolution of issues about work health and safety arising out of:

  • work carried out at the workplace, or
  • from the conduct of the organisation.

The issue resolution process applies after a work health and safety matter is raised but not resolved to the satisfaction of any party after discussing the matter. All parties involved in the issue must make reasonable efforts to come to an effective, timely and final solution of the matter.

If a work health and safety matter cannot be resolved by talking with all involved parties then your organisation needs to follow the issue resolution process set up in the work health and safety (WHS) laws.

For more information on issue resolution and the WHS laws contact your work health and safety regulator.



Questions should be emailed to info@swa.gov.au.

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