By Michael Selinger
Many communities have historically relied on the support of volunteers, and increasingly, so do many organisations. As such, it is important to understand the duty owed by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to ensure the safety of volunteers.
Volunteers represent a significant number of the workforce in Australia. An organisation may engage volunteers for a number of reasons. Volunteers can perform an essential range of activities, from providing support services, mentoring, collecting donations or serving as a volunteer director.
Volunteers are protected by health and safety laws as much as any other worker. If your organisation is a PCBU (that is, has at least one employee), you have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of the volunteers are protected when they are undertaking work on your behalf.
All your volunteers also owe a duty of care to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of other people, and also to follow any of your organisation’s reasonable instructions or procedures.
Like any other worker in your organisation, volunteers need to understand the nature of the work that they will performing, the particular hazards that they may face in doing their work, and what steps they should put in place to control those risks.
Sometimes, due to the seasonal nature or sporadic engagement of volunteers, there is a risk that volunteers won’t have enough time to come up to speed with how the work is to be undertaken. As with any other group of vulnerable workers, including young or inexperienced workers, you should take steps to ensure that volunteers are given a proper induction into your organisation and clear directions on how the work is to be performed. You must also provide supervision.
In short, volunteers should be treated as if they were your own workers from a safety point of view. Be sure to provide them with a safe and risk-free work environment.