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Volunteers

Information about employer's responsibility to protect volunteers from injury and to explain that volunteers can not be sued if they cause an injury.

Who is a volunteer?

A volunteer gives their time for the benefit of others. They are not paid for their time although they may be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.

Volunteers may be specially trained (like lawyers giving their time to work in community legal centres) or there may not be specialist skills involved (like collecting rubbish on clean-up Australia day). They may offer their time on a regular basis (for example, coaching a sport team every Saturday during the season) or they may help out when there is an emergency (such as after bushfires or floods).

If a volunteer is injured

As volunteers are not employees, they are generally not covered under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic) if they are injured while volunteering.

Organisations that rely on volunteers must take out public liability insurance. Separate insurance policies to protect volunteers are available from WorkSafe Victoria.

See Worksafe Victoria—A handbook for community service organisations—Volunteer health and safety handbook(opens in a new window).

Volunteers in government agencies may be covered

Volunteers may be covered under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic) if an Act expressly says that they are protected. An example of the injured worker is a volunteer fire fighter working as authorised by the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic). These volunteers are eligible for compensation if they are doing authorised voluntary activities.

See s. 63—Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Right to a safe work environment

Volunteers have the right to work in a safe and healthy work environment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).

An employer can be penalised up to 9000 penalty units (body corporate) or 1800 for an individual employer if they expose a volunteer or member of the public, to health and safety risks. This is an indictable offence (that may be treated summarily).

See:

If someone is injured by a volunteer

The law protects volunteers from being sued if they case an injury to someone through their actions, or their failure to act. This is called the 'good samaritan' protection.

This protection was added to the Wrongs Act so that volunteers would not be discouraged from helping out.

See Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

More information

Legislation

Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic)

  • Part VlA—Good Samaritan protection (for volunteers against personal liability for an act or omission)

See Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)

  • s. 2—objects of the Act include to eliminate at the source, risks to the health, safety or welfare of employees and other persons at work (broad enough to cover volunteers)
  • s. 5—defines a volunteer
  • s. 20—explains the concept of ensuring health and safety
  • s. 23—an employer must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that persons other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety
  • s. 144(5)—volunteers working for a body corporate are excluded from liability
  • s. 146(5)—excludes a volunteer from liability in an unincorporated association or partnership

See Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Country Fire Authority 1958 (Vic)

  • s. 18A—exempts volunteer from liability for their actions if injury happens as a result
  • s. 63—provides that a volunteer who is injured carrying out authorised activity is entitled to compensation under the Accident Compensation Act 1985

See Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

References

Safe Work Australia

This national statutory body with representatives from each state and territory, workers and employer groups leads the development of policy to improve workplace safety across Australia.

See Safe Work Australia—The essential guide to work healh and safety for volunteers(opens in a new window).

WorkSafe Victoria

The Victorian Work cover Authority, WorkSafe, has information about managing volunteers. This site may help volunteers to understand their rights.

See Worksafe Victoria—A handbook for community service organisations—Volunteer health and safety handbook(opens in a new window).

Seek

The online job search site has a page of information to help volunteers to understand their rights.

See seek—about volunteering(opens in a new window).

Volunteering Australia

This is the peak National body for volunteering working to advance volunteering in the Australian community. There are resources for volunteers and organisations that manage volunteers.

See Volunteering Australia(opens in a new window).

Fines—Value of penalty units(opens in a new window).

Updated