Work Health & Safety Act 2011
On the first of January 2012 the Workplace
Health and Safety laws changed in Queensland. The old act, called the ‘Workplace Health
and Safety Act 1995’ has been replaced by the new ‘Work Health and Safety Act 2011’.
This is the result of many years of consultation and collaboration between the States and the
Commonwealth to achieve harmonisation of Occupational Health and Safety Laws across Australia.
The first thing to understand is that, for Queensland, the new Act contains many features
of the old one and this is especially the case with regard to volunteers.
The old act included ‘unpaid’ workers or volunteers in its definition of ‘worker’.
The new Act does the same. Many members of boards and committees and
senior staff of organisations have expressed concern about the new laws and whether they
apply to them. The answer is yes, if your organisation conducts a ‘business or undertaking’
(whether for profit or not), and is not a ‘volunteer association’ as defined by
the new Act. In other words the new laws apply only to
volunteer organisations if one or more paid workers are engaged as well as volunteers
There is also a good deal of concern expressed by volunteer directors or committee members
of associations as to their obligations under the new act, especially given that higher
penalties now apply. Guidelines published by Safe Work Australia
state the answer is No. A volunteer officer cannot be prosecuted for failing to comply
with their officer duties under the Work Health and Safety Act. That immunity from prosecution
is designed to ensure that voluntary participation at the officer level is not discouraged. It’s
important to remember however, that a volunteer officer can be prosecuted in their capacity
as a worker if they fail to meet their duties as a worker. And, remember that all workers
do have certain duties to act with reasonable care to ensure they do not harm themselves
or others. Safe Work Australia has launched a new volunteer
assistance package in partnership with Volunteering Australia. The package includes a Volunteer
Assistance Line, email and webpage designed to provide guidance and support to volunteers
and volunteer organisations who may be affected by the new laws.
Go to the link on this website to Safe Work Australia and view the Volunteer Assistance
Package. Volunteering Qld welcomes laws that serve
to protect the health and safety of all workers, including volunteers.
By protecting the health and safety of volunteers we also demonstrate an understanding of the
immense value of volunteering in our community and it is one form of recognition of the vital
role volunteers play.