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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.

For organisations covered by the model WHS laws, volunteers are afforded the same protections as other ‘workers’.

We have published guidance for volunteers on how they can meet their work health and safety duties and what they can expect from the organisations they volunteer for. We have also published guidance for organisations that employ workers and engage volunteers and how the model WHS laws apply to them.

*These guides are available in Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Italian and Vietnamese.

Volunteer: a definition

Under the model WHS laws, a volunteer is a person who works for a PCBU without payment or financial reward. The model WHS laws recognise volunteers as workers.

  • An organisation must provide the same protections to its volunteers as it does to its paid workers.

WHS laws and volunteers

Not all organisations owe WHS duties to volunteers. An organisation owes duties to its volunteers under the model WHS Act where it:

  • conducts a ‘business or undertaking’ (whether for profit or not)
  • is not a ‘volunteer association’ as defined by the model WHS Act.

Volunteer association: a definition

A volunteer association is a group of volunteers, working together for one or more community purposes. An organisation is not regarded as a PCBU, and does not have duties under the model WHS laws if none  of the volunteers, whether alone or jointly with any other volunteers, employs any person to carry out work for the volunteer organisation.

For more information on PCBUs see our Interpretive Guideline, Work Health and Safety Act, the meaning of ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’.

WHS duties for volunteers

As a ‘worker’, a volunteer who carries out work for a PCBU has duties under the model WHS Act in relation to taking reasonable care for health and safety.

You must take reasonable care for your own health and safety and to ensure you don’t adversely affect the health and safety of others.

  • You are not a worker if you carry out volunteer work for a ‘volunteer association’ as the WHS Act does not apply to these organisations.
  • A volunteer may also be an officer of a business or undertaking with due diligence duties under the WHS Act.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about volunteer work. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

You can also seek further assistance from a number of volunteer peak bodies

Codes and guides
Reports and Case studies

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