Volunteer rights and responsibilities
Various laws protect the rights of volunteers when fulfilling their roles. These laws create an environment that encourages volunteering by protecting volunteers from liability claims for actions conducted in good faith.
In volunteering you are generously donating your time, skills and efforts, however, a volunteer environment is also a workplace, and you have certain rights and responsibilities that must be upheld.
Work health and safety
Volunteers in organisations who employ paid staff have the same responsibility and accountability, under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, as workers do. This means the organisation has a duty of care and is responsible for providing volunteers with a safe working environment. It also means you have a responsibility to work safely and observe any safety measures or organisational policies that are in place, including WHS policies and procedures.
Volunteer associations that do not have employees are governed by common law obligations and these organisations owe a duty of care to volunteers to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable harm, injury or loss.
Organisations can meet their responsibilities by:
- implementing a risk management plan
- making sure that supervisors and managers are adequately skilled to show volunteers how to perform their work safely and without injury
- ensuring that officers responsible for management of an organisation, including volunteers, act within a certain standard of care by:
- learning about work health and safety
- identifying particular safety challenges
- ensuring that work health and safety policies are put in place.
As a volunteer, you should make yourself aware of your work health and safety responsibilities. For instance, you must:
- look after your own health and safety at work
- not do anything that will harm you or your work-mates
- use any safety equipment that you are given
- obey your employer's safety rules
- not take drugs or drink alcohol at work
- participate in an induction and sign off to show that you understand what is expected of you.
Every workplace environment is different – contact SafeWork SA for more information about work health and safety requirements.
The Volunteer Protection Act 2001 addresses concerns that people could be held legally responsible for their actions while doing voluntary work on behalf of an organisation.
The Act gives legal protection from personal liability to volunteers doing voluntary work for an incorporated community organisation or government program, but does not cover personal injury matters.
To protect individuals in relation to personal injury, organisations may need to consider obtaining personal accident insurance for their volunteers. This insurance can provide benefits to volunteers following injury, disability or death while carrying out duties for their organisation. Check that your organisation has appropriate insurance cover for you.
See the Volunteers Protection Act 2001 fact sheet from the Office for Volunteers website for more information.
Volunteering can offer rewarding outcomes for all participants but this requires mutual respect and trust. A volunteer has a right to expect privacy and confidentiality from staff and colleagues. They should also treat all information about other volunteers and clients as confidential, regardless of the source of information. Some organisations will have a specific policy about privacy.