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Does our duty of care apply to our staff when they volunteer for another organisation?

Q: One of our organisation's business plans is an environmental impact strategy. One recommendation was to volunteer for local environmental programs / initiatives. As a result, we have consulted with our local council with a plan that our staff can volunteer to assist with the rehabilitation and re-vegetation of an area of a local river. The council has its own insurance cover, safe work method statements and risk assessments for volunteers, and we have agreed that staff can volunteer during working hours and will continue to be paid by us. Who is responsible for their overall safety?

A: As it is your organisation that has promoted this arrangement, including consenting to staff taking time during business hours to do the work, your organisation remains responsible to ensure the safety of the staff, so far as is reasonably practicable, while they are performing the voluntary work. Some of the steps that would be considered reasonably practicable could include ensuring that:

  • the council program is safely managed, including adequate safe systems of work and personal protective equipment. This can involve a number of steps by your organisation to satisfy itself. on an ongoing basis. that the program is being operated in a safe way; and
  • your staff are sufficiently fit to undertake the voluntary work.

By conducting the program. the council owes your staff a duty of care. The fact that they have insurance does not of itself discharge your organisation's overriding duty of care under health and safety law. Further. any injuries suffered by staff during the program are likely to fall under your workers' compensation cover.

Please note: The answer is correct at the time of publishing. Be aware that laws may change over time. Refer to Volunteers for current advice.

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