Volunteering is an opportunity to make new friends, build your resume and engage in meaningful work that benefits the community. It can improve your physical and mental health when it involves getting active and helping others. In 2016, 19% of the Australian population aged 15 and over took part in voluntary work according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Volunteering can take many forms, from helping out at your local charity shop, to lending a hand at your children’s school or coordinating activities at your local care home. The time you give contributes greatly to the local community.
When volunteering, you should be made aware of the risks involved and told your rights when you sign up. So what can you do if you’re seriously injured volunteering?
I’ve been injured. Can I make a claim?
Do workers compensation laws protect volunteers? The rules vary across different states and territories. For organisations and companies covered by the WHS Laws, volunteers should have the same protections as paid workers.
More information and how you are covered can be found on Safe Work Australia’s website.
One point to remember always - the organisation you volunteer for owes you a duty of care and you can bring forth a claim for public liability if you find yourself seriously injured whilst undertaking volunteer duties.
Who has breached their duty of care?
Organisations have a duty of care, a responsibility, to ensure the health and safety of their volunteers when they are performing duties as a volunteer. If workers compensation doesn’t apply to volunteers, then the organisation’s public liability insurance will cover compensation.
It’s also possible to bring a public liability claim against a fellow volunteer who breached their duty of care, resulting in your injury. In Queensland, the Civil Liability Act 2003 has specific protections for volunteers. While volunteers generally cannot be held liable if they were acting in good faith, they can potentially be held liable if they were intoxicated, engaged in illegal behaviour or weren’t following instructions.
How do I minimise risks when volunteering?
Here are just a few of the ways you can reduce the risk of injury while volunteering:
- Keep the area free of hazards that might cause a slip, trip or fall (e.g. toys, ice or any other obstacles).
- Make sure there are as many volunteers around as necessary in order to complete a task safely (e.g. when loading furniture into a truck and trying to keep the load balanced).
- Lift heavy items properly: with your legs and keeping your back straight.
- Use a tool such as a dolly for moving heavier items.
- Simply wearing gloves can go a long way towards preventing some injuries.
- If you’re in charge of volunteers, have them list medical conditions and allergies and be mindful of these when you assign duties.
- Have the more experienced volunteers train new recruits.
Shine Lawyers - we're here to help
If you’ve been seriously injured while doing volunteer work, Shine Lawyers can help. We have a team of experts in workers compensation claims and public liability matters, with a No Win, No Fee Guarantee.* For more information, contact us online.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: March 2, 2021.