Work health and safety for volunteers – how to keep your organisation and volunteers safe

enableHR Work Health Safety

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As a not-for-profit organisation, it’s good practice to conduct a work health and safety (WHS) audit on a regular basis to ensure your organisation is meeting its duty of care to all your workers, and this includes volunteers.

It’s important to apply a systematic approach to managing your WHS obligations for your volunteer staff. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you sure your volunteers are aware of the standard safety protocols at your organisation?
  • Do your volunteers know who to ask about work health and safety issues or concerns relating to their work activities?
  • Do you regularly conduct WHS training with your volunteers?
  • Do you regularly ask volunteers to attend WHS consultations with other workers?

If you’re unsure of how your WHS policy extends to volunteers, you may be in breach of your WHS obligations for which stiff penalties apply.

Remember, the WHS Act requires that you, as a person conducting a business or undertaking must—so far is reasonably practicable—consult with all workers who carry out work for the organisation who may be affected by work health and safety.

So you must include volunteers who perform work for your organisation in WHS consultations with other staff and ensure they have an opportunity to be represented or participate in creating policies or procedures that may affect their health and safety.

Recent Cases

Two recent WHS incidents serve as timely reminders to all organisations and their officers about the need to make work health and safety compliance a priority. This includes conducting regular risk assessments and ensuring adequate supervision and training is provided to all workers. Even though these incidents happened in for-profit organisations, they could just as easy happen in not-for-profits as well.

Kenoss case

Recently, in a case that is the very first prosecution of an officer under the new harmonised WHS laws, Canberra workplace safety authorities charged a construction company and one of its senior managers over the death of a worker.

Kenoss Contractors has been accused of allegedly failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers by failing to provide and maintain a work environment without risks to health and safety.

If found guilty, the senior manager could face a personal fine of $300,000 and the company more than $1 million under new nationally consistent work safety laws.

Damday case

In another recent decision, a company that was fined $120,000 after an explosion killed one of its workers, lost its fight to have its penalty reduced.

Employees from air conditioning company, Damday Pty Ltd, typically used the company’s utility vehicle to transport large, highly flammable gas cylinders to job sites. However, when the utility vehicle was off the road for several days, the company’s poorly ventilated vans were used to transport the cylinders instead. Gas escaping from the cylinders filled the interior of one of the vans, and when a worker unlocked the van, a spark ignited in the door lock and the van exploded, killing the worker.

The Northern Territory WorkSafe’s investigation into the accident revealed that the employer’s Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) failed to identify the need for adequate ventilation when storing or transporting flammable gas in a vehicle.

It also found that workers were not made aware of, or trained in relation to, the SWMS prior to the incident, and the employer had failed to implement reasonably practicable measures to eliminate or minimise the risks associated with poorly ventilated vehicles.

The original sentencing Magistrate found that the employer failed to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that workers and other persons would not be exposed to health and safety risks.

The Northern Territory Supreme Court upheld the decision and the $120,000 penalty against Damday stands for failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers and other persons in the conduct of its business.

Duty of care

It’s important to bear in mind that an officer, under the harmonised WHS legislation, has a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure the relevant person conducting the business or undertaking complies with their statutory WHS duties.

NFP organisations need to identify those people who are ‘officers’ under the harmonised WHS legislation, to ensure they are able to adequately discharge their obligations. Two of these important requirements involve conducting regular risk assessments and ensuring that adequate supervision and training is available to all workers and officers.

Regular risk assessments

The Damday case highlights the need to conduct regular risk assessments and ensure that appropriate measures are implemented to eliminate or minimise the risk of safety incidents.

As an organisation and/or officer, it’s critical to keep your knowledge of WHS legislation up-to-date, and you review your WHS procedures on a regular basis, so that you are in no doubt that your workers are:

  • Adequately trained and supervised.
  • Provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Aware of decisions that affect safety in the workplace.

enableHR harnesses the flexibility, scale and reach of the cloud platform to deliver affordable best practice HR and WHS processes, tools, advice and record management using legally backed content created by FCB Workplace Law. enableHR is a partner for the upcoming Not-For-Profit People Conference, 14-15 November 2015

 

 

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