Information for volunteers
The Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (the WHS Act) and Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Regulations 2011 (the WHS Regulations) aim to provide all volunteers with a healthy and safe workplace. It also aims to ensure you are fairly represented and consulted about health and safety issues in your workplace.
As a volunteer, you are entitled to the same health and safety protection as a worker.
Who is a volunteer?
A volunteer is a person who performs work on a voluntary basis, regardless of whether they receive out-of-pocket expenses such as travel and meal reimbursements.
Any other form of payment means a person is not a volunteer e.g. a paid director of a body corporate is not considered to be a volunteer.
What is work?
Whether an activity will be considered work may depend on a number of factors. However, the following features are more likely to indicate that work is being carried out:
- the activity involves physical or mental effort by a person or the application of a particular skill for the benefit of another person or themselves
- the activity is part of an ongoing process or project
- the activity is often performed for remuneration, and
- control is exercised over the person carrying out the activity by another person.
The activity may be work even though one or more of the features is absent or minor. Formal, structured or complex arrangements are more likely to be considered work than ad hoc or unorganised activities.
While you are at work you must:
- take reasonable care for your own health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by your work
- follow safety instructions given by the person conducting the business or undertaking e.g. your manager or coordinator
- cooperate with policies and procedures on work health and safety e.g. using equipment supplied such as adjustable workstations, safety boots or a high visibility vest.
Who is a person conducting a business or undertaking?
A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is a new term that replaces ‘employer’ in the Northern Territory’s old health and safety laws.
In many cases PCBU still refers to an employer but it is also used to describe others such as contractors, designers, manufacturers, suppliers, importers, persons who install, construct or commission plant or structures, franchisees and self-employed people.
It’s a broad concept that aims to capture all types of working arrangements. A PCBU is the main duty holder and may work alone or with others, and for profit or not-for-profit.
A volunteer association or not-for-profit organisation can also be a PCBU. If you volunteer for a business that has one or more paid workers, they are considered to be a PCBU.
Duties of a PCBU
If your volunteer association or not-for-profit organisation meets the definition of a PCBU, it has a duty to protect your health and safety at work and eliminate risks that may cause you harm, so far as is reasonably practicable.
If it isn’t practicable to eliminate risks, they must be minimised using appropriate control measures. A PCBU must consult you on the measures being taken to ensure work is healthy and safe.
What is reasonably practicable?
To work out what is ‘reasonably practicable’ in a given situation, you, as the PCBU, must consider the following factors:
- the likelihood of the relevant hazard or risk occurring (e.g. the probability that someone could be injured by the work being done)
- the degree of harm that might result (eg fatality, multiple injuries, medical or first aid treatment, long or short-term health effects)
- what you know, or ought reasonably to know, about the hazard or risk and ways of eliminating or minimising the risk
- the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk.
After taking these factors into account, you may also consider costs related to available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.
Your PCBU must consult with you, so far as is reasonably practicable, on issues affecting your health and safety. This includes when identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work, and proposing changes that may affect your health and safety.
You must be consulted and your views taken into account when making decisions about:
- ways to eliminate or minimise risks
- the adequacy of facilities for your welfare
- procedures for consulting with you
- resolving health and safety issues
- monitoring your health and safety, and workplace conditions
- how to provide you with health and safety information and training.
Consultation must involve:
- sharing relevant health and safety information with you
- giving you a reasonable opportunity to express your views, raise issues and contribute to the decision making process
- taking your views into account
- providing information on the results of the consultation.
Workplaces have better safety outcomes when workers and volunteers have the opportunity to provide input before decisions are made. Worker representation mechanisms, listed below, give you a voice on health and safety matters and facilitate the duty PCBUs have to consult with you.
As a volunteer you can be a member of a work group, nominate to be a health and safety representative (HSR), vote in elections and be a member of a health and safety committee (HSC).
A work group is a group of workers who share similar health and safety conditions and concerns. Any worker or group of workers can ask their PCBU to set up a work group at one or more workplaces by requesting the election of a health and safety representative (HSR). If a request is made for the election of a HSR, a PCBU must start negotiations with workers within 14 days.
Health and safety representatives
An HSR represents the health and safety interests of a work group. A work group can have as many HSRs and deputy HSRs as agreed after consultation between you and your PCBU. A HSR represents the health and safety interests of a work group. A work group can have as many HSRs and deputy HSRs as agreed after consultation, negotiation and agreement between you and your PCBUs.
Health and safety committees
An HSC facilitates cooperation between you and your PCBU in developing and carrying out measures to ensure health and safety at work. This includes health and safety standards, rules and procedures for the workplace.