OHS Matters: OHS Laws for Volunteers and Non-Employees

 

“I am a volunteer in an information centre and am being asked to clean toilet facilities open to the public daily. Are they allowed to do this?”

 

This is the sort of question we often get from members of the public, volunteers or non-union members, who do not necessarily know who is covered by the OHS laws, who has legal duties, and to whom.

The legislation does cover volunteers, but in different ways in different jurisdictions.

As long as there is an employer, then in Victoria, this employer has a duty to ‘other persons’ (s26):

"An employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer."

This would apply in your situation - as long as there is an employer, that is, that the entire organisation is not volunteers only. If this is the case, then the OHS Act does not apply.

If those running the organisation employ someone, anyone, then there is an employer and the organisation does have duties. In this case it means ensuring that any task volunteers carry out and nothing the organisation does not put their health and safety at risk. This might include:

providing information on the cleaning chemicals being used,

ensuring the chemicals are as safe as possible,

Providing adequate PPE (eg gloves, etc),

providing volunteers with training,

ensuring people don’t enter the toilets while they are being cleaned, and so on.

In jurisdictions with the Work Health Safety Act, the duties of the PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) are clearer. Firstly because volunteer organisations are PCBUs and also because anyone doing any type of work, including volunteer, work experience or unpaid work, is classified as a ‘worker’.

However, you must remember that at the end of the day, you are a volunteer – and so you are there by choice. If you feel that this task is not suitable, unsafe, or do not want to do it, for any reason, then you have the right to refuse. The organisation cannot force you or any other volunteer to do any particular task.