New Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 - Significant changes for organisations with volunteers

The new law will come into force on Monday, 4 April this year. Despite some of the originally proposed changes being watered down in the final stages of drafting the new Act there will still be significant effects for you, your business or your organisation. This article looks specifically at implications for organisations with volunteers.

If you engage volunteers in your business or organisation then the new Act may have particular significance for you. The Act acknowledges that volunteers are an integral part of New Zealand communities and one of its main aims is to make sure that this won’t be compromised. The Act does this by distinguishing between casual volunteers and volunteer workers. If you, or an organisation you are part of, rely on volunteers then establishing where they fit under the new law will be critical.

Volunteer-only organisation

A purely volunteer organisation where volunteers work together for community purposes (ie: not for profit) and which does not have any employees is known as a ‘volunteer association’. A volunteer association is not what the new Act deems to be a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) so the Act will not apply to it. PCBUs, so far as is reasonably practicable, have the primary duty to ensure the health and safety of its workers as well as others who may also come into contact with it.

A PCBU

A volunteer organisation, which may only have one paid employee, is deemed to be a PCBU and under the Act will need to meet the primary duty to the extent of what is within its influence and control. This will involve identifying, minimising and/or eliminating risks and hazards in the workplace. The new legislation will also impose substantial duties on ‘officers’ of PCBUs to be proactive when it comes to matters of health and safety, and on workers to promote the health and safety of themselves and others around them.

Volunteers vs volunteer workers

There is, however, a further distinction depending on whether the organisation has casual volunteers or volunteer workers. Volunteer workers are people who regularly work for an organisation with its knowledge and consent on an ongoing basis, and will usually be an important part to the organisation’s operations. If you have these types of volunteers in your organisation then the Act will apply and your organisation will meet the criteria of a PCBU. You will need to ensure that they receive appropriate training, supervision and instruction in order to work safely, as with any other regular worker.

As referred to above, the new Act however maintains the law under the current legislation by excluding from the definition of ‘volunteer worker’ those volunteers who carry out particular activities. People volunteering for the following activities will not be volunteer workers:

  • Participation in a fundraising activity
  • Providing care for another person in the volunteer’s home
  • Assistance with activities for an educational institution outside the premises of the educational institution, and/or
  • Assistance with sports or recreation for an educational institute, sports or recreation club.

Therefore if your organisation engages only with volunteers who carry out one of the activities listed above then it would not be a PCBU.

Next steps

With the legislation coming into force in two months’ time, if you’re involved with an organisation with volunteers, you will need to look into how your volunteers are treated under the new Act. You should firstly review whether your organisation operates strictly as a volunteer association or meets the criteria of a PCBU. Secondly, you should consider how your volunteers are treated, are they engaged sporadically or is it on a more regular basis? Thirdly, do your volunteers carry out one of the activities specifically excluded from the Act? By addressing these questions you’ll be able to determine whether or not the new law will apply. Penalties for failing to maintain a safe workplace will be significantly higher than under the current law so this is an important exercise.

If you’re unsure on how to proceed or would like more advice on not only volunteers but also on the wider implications of the new Health and Safety at Work Act, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with us.

Posted: Tue 01 Mar 2016

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