Country Idealist Profiles

Volunteers and Northern Territory Law

The Northern Territory’s Work Health Act 1986 (NT) provides a very broad definition of a worker, that would include volunteers. A worker is defined:

  • as anyone who performs work or services of any kind for another person;
  • under an agreement of any form.

Under this definition, a volunteer would be considered as a worker and be covered by the legislation.  If the volunteer does not fall into the above category of a worker, the Act still protects anyone else who is not an employee, but who is affected by the employer’s undertaking. This would include volunteers.

Volunteer-involving organisations have a duty of care to ensure that, as far as practicable, a volunteer’s health and safety is not adversely affected by the work they are engaged in. This includes maintaining a safe workplace and plant, making arrangements for the safe handling and transport of plant and substances, providing training and instruction to enable volunteers to carry out their work in a safe manner an ensure that visitors to a workplace are aware of and abide by safety requirements.

Common Law
Volunteer-involving organisations—regardless of whether it has employees or not—also have a common law duty of care to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury to all entrants on the premises. The risk must be ‘reasonably foreseeable’—that is, not farfetched or fanciful.

Volunteers with special needs may require a higher standard of care and therefore volunteer involving organisations may need to take more time preparing them for their duties. Volunteer-involving organisations whose operations may expose volunteers to scenes or events that may cause nervous shock also need to factor in psychological injury as a foreseeable risk.

In some instances, the scope of a volunteer-involving organisation’s duty of care may be expanded. For example, if a volunteer-involving organisation runs a working bee in which volunteers are asked to help with some demolition work outside of the normal voluntary activity of volunteers – the volunteer-involving organisation will have expanded the scope of duty of care that it owes to volunteers.

The Work Health Act 1986 (NT) sets a maximum penalty on both corporations and individuals for breaches of the duty to provide a safe workplace.

Under common law, civil damage claims can also be made by, or on behalf of, a volunteer who is injured or killed as a result of breaching its common law duty of care. Duty of care is breached in circumstances where the risk was foreseeable and significant, and where a reasonable person would have taken precaution. In determining whether a reasonable person would have taken the precautions against risk or harm, the court takes into account the following:

  • the probability that the harm would occur if care were not taken;
  • the likely seriousness of the harm;
  • the burden of taking precautions to avoid the risk of harm; and
  • the social utility of the activity that creates the risk of harm.

The Northern Territory specifically excludes volunteers from laws relating to workers’ compensation and rehabilitation. The exception to this is some volunteer fire-fighters, volunteer emergency services personnel and prescribed volunteers.

Volunteers’ Personal Civil Liability
Under the Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages) Act 2003 (NT) volunteers do not incur personal civil liability for a personal injury caused by an act done in good faith and without recklessness while doing community work for a community organisation.



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