11:20 am, Thursday 19 January, 2012
He expressed concern that inaccurate and alarmist claims regarding the new WHS laws could seriously discourage volunteers and potential volunteers from doing volunteer work. Safe Work Australia clarifies that the new WHS laws will not include every volunteering activity or organisation. The laws only apply if a volunteer organisation employs staff as well as volunteers to carry out work for the organisation.
“This isn’t new – this was the case even in the old state schemes and it makes sense. In three states and territories Queensland, the Northern Territory and the ACT, occupational health and safety legislation (OHS) already specifically applied to volunteers – this hasn’t changed. In all the other jurisdictions, the protections afforded by OHS legislation also applied to volunteers at workplaces,” said Mr Phillips.
“The new WHS laws do not, for example apply to the local junior football club run entirely by volunteers or to any community group which does not have any employees.”
Safe Work Australia further stressed that volunteer organisations and volunteers covered in the laws have an overall duty to take care in the workplace. However, the duty to ensure the safety of a workplace is still in the hands of the employer or ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ – not the volunteer. There is unlikely to be a prosecution of a volunteer except in the most serious and exceptional of circumstances.
Volunteering Australia through its CEO, Cary Pedicini expressed their support to the national harmonisation of OHS laws. “The harmonisation will mean a higher level of protection for volunteers applied consistently no matter where they volunteer. That is a good thing for volunteers. We will continue to work with Safe Work Australia to address any concerns that arise as we have done for the last twelve months,” said Mr Pedicini.
Safe Work Australia assured that the new WHS laws will ensure that volunteers receive the highest level of protection wherever they perform their work across the country consistent with the protections provided to all workers.