Not-for-profit organisations use and rely on the services of volunteers. In Australia, legal responsibilities regarding volunteers fall into two categories: (1) responsibilities to the volunteers themselves, and (2) responsibilities arising out of the conduct of volunteers. Australian occupational health and safety legislation usually imposes statutory responsibility on employers in relation to non-employees such as volunteers and requires that the employer “shall ensure so far as is practicable that persons (other than the employees of the employer…) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer…” The principles determining what is “practicable” have been discussed by the courts and include considering what is reasonably expected of others, the ability of the person to control the circumstances, and not only what the person knows but what the person ought to know.

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Australian legislation usually requires that while at work an employee must take reasonable care for the health and safety of anyone else who may be affected by his or her acts or omissions at the workplace, which imposes an obligation on employees to be concerned for the health and safety of volunteers. The impact of this obligation is that provided an employee is acting within the normal course of his or her employment, even if negligently, the employer will generally be vicariously liable for the actions of the employee. In addition, as to premises liability, an “occupier of premises owes a duty to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that any person on the premises will not be injured or damaged by reason of the state of the premises or of things done or omitted to be done in relation to the state of the premises.” Such provisions apply to volunteers injured because of the state of the employer’s premises.

These and other obligations should convince organisations to ensure their insurance specifically covers liability for injury to volunteers as well as injury to others caused by volunteers. Countries will have various laws applying to the engagement of volunteers, including workplace discrimination and other laws typically applicable to employees. See your Ally Law member firm to determine the pertinent laws in your jurisdiction, what changes you may need to make to meet those obligations, and to ensure you have appropriate insurance coverage. For more information about Ally Law member firm services and outstanding lawyers, contact us at

Click here for the original article by Michael Gorton, Solomon Miller, and Jonathan Teh of Ally Law member Russell Kennedy.

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