Everyone knows that if you are injured whilst at work you are entitled to compensation to help offset the costs of your injuries. Likewise, if you were injured due to the fault of an occupier, business owner or other entity you can make a public liability claim.
However, where do you stand if you are 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 charity or other entity for free. Volunteers may sometimes receive some reward for their efforts in the form of costs for travel, food or other modest benefits.
Workers Versus Volunteers
Generally, volunteers are not protected by the workers compensation legislation and cannot claim workers compensation when they are injured. There are however often deeming provisions of the legislation that protect volunteers and entitle them to claim workers compensation.
Quite often the organisation that is being assisted will take out an accident policy which will provide for payment of medical expenses and limited other benefits when injury occurs.
Duty of Care Owed to Volunteers
The organisation that is being assisted by the volunteer owes to the volunteer a duty to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to prevent injury. A breach of that duty may give rise to an entitlement to damages.
The Work Health & Safety Act 2011 (NSW) extends to someone who “carries out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business or undertaking”, which of course includes volunteers (s.7). Also in New South Wales, the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 Schedule 1 deems some volunteers to be workers.
Volunteer organisations have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all people who enter their premises. If the workers compensation legislation does not apply then the organisation’s public liability insurer will cover the organisation for the compensation payable as a result of a breach of that duty. The extent of the duty owed by the organisation will be dependent upon the nature of the environment, the type of work that is being performed and the general level of risk that the volunteer is exposed to.
Australian Work Health and Safety Act
Relevant workplace health and 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 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.