Everyone knows that if you are injured while on the job or in the course of your employment, there is compensation available to help offset the costs of your injury. Likewise, as a general member of the public you have rights that protect you in the case of public injury or injury on a business owner’s property. However, what are you entitled to as someone that accepts some risk of injury while not being fully eligible to the benefits of an actual employee? In other words, you’re one of the growing tens of thousands of people in Australia who undertake some form of volunteer work.
What is a Volunteer?
A volunteer is generally defined as a person who provides services for a business or other profit generating entity for free. Volunteers may, however, receive other forms of compensation like expenses costs for travel, food, or housing.
Workers versus Volunteers
At a basic level, volunteers don’t have the legal standing are not the same as employed workers. They are providing services on an unpaid basis, are not in the system, do not provide the employer with any information, and are not given benefits. However, the volunteer is still acting as an employee in many ways, despite the general lack of commercial control over their actions. There may be overlap where a volunteer’s duties exceed the scope of a ‘volunteer’ and spills over into that of a paid worker. For instance, many volunteers are paid in some honorarium capacity.
However, the law in most states and territories of Australia mostly bars volunteers from receiving benefits from worker’s compensation claims, but there may be exceptions. Therefore it is important to check that the organisation you volunteer for has insurance that adequately covers you and the activities you are carrying out when volunteering and to what extent.
Duty of Care Owed to Volunteers
As mentioned above, volunteers DO have an opportunity to receive compensation for injuries sustained during the course of their service. This is because an employer does, in fact, owe a volunteer a general duty of care; meaning that they will be liable for the costs and damages sustained by a volunteer who is injured while engaged with the employee.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) extends to someone who ‘carries out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business or undertaking’, inclusive of ‘a volunteer’ (s 7). In some circumstances, volunteers might even be considered as employees for workers’ compensation purposes (Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 (NSW) sch 1).
Volunteer organisations still have the responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of all people who enter their premises. It is, therefore, the responsibility of organisation to maintain coverage in case of a breach of duty, whether inadvertent or otherwise. Additionally, the organisation that you are volunteering for has an affirmative duty to reduce the number of risks its employees and volunteers are exposed to, including monitoring the safety of your environment, the nature of the work, and the general level of risk volunteers are generally exposed to.
Australian Work Health and Safety Act
Relevant Workplace Health & Safety legislation in Australia does, in fact, recognise volunteers as workers and will protect the physical and mental health of a volunteer in the same way that it would protect a registered employee and most organisations are covered under the legislation. Consequently, both the organisation and the volunteer benefit: The volunteers are covered in the unfortunate event that they are injured in the course of business and the organisation is protected by if they in some way contribute to the injury of an employee or volunteer.
Contact a Lawyer Today
Volunteers are a vital part of any economy, and they deserve to have the same protections as regularly employed individuals. Luckily, there is compensation available for volunteers who are injured in the course of their duties in Australia. If you have been injured in your capacity as a volunteer, strict time limits apply to these matters. Contact BPC Lawyers today.