Health and safety and volunteering 


Our organisation has lots of volunteers. Do we have responsibilities for volunteers under the Health and Safety at Work Act?

If your organisation is wholly made up of volunteers (i.e. there are no employees) then your organisation has no responsibilities under the Act. 

If your organisation employs one or more people (this doesn't include independent contractors) then your organisation is a PCBU and is covered by the Act. This means your organisation has health and safety responsibilities towards your volunteers as well as toward the employees.

You can read more about it on the WorkSafe website.

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I volunteer every week for a community group. Do I have any health and safety responsibilities?

If the community group is a PCBU (see the answer to the previous question), then any person coming into their premises has health and safety responsibilities, even people who are just visiting. These responsibilities are to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, to not put others at risk, and to follow reasonable health and safety instructions.

As a volunteer you have these same responsibilities, but if you volunteer by doing on-going and regular work which is an integral part of what the organisation does then you are considered to be a volunteer worker and also have the following responsibilities: 

  • to take reasonable care that what you do (or don't do) doesn't adversely affect the health and safety of others in the workplace 
  • to cooperate with the organisation's health and safety policies or procedures. 

If you are a volunteer worker your health and safety responsibilities are the same as those of an employee. You can read more about this on our Health and Safety for workers page.

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I’m on the board of a charity - do I have any liability for health and safety issues?

If the charitable organisation has employees then it will be a PCBU and you will have responsibilities as an officer of the PCBU. Board members are officers, as are chief executives and others that hold very senior leadership positions. As an officer you are responsible for carrying out due diligence, that is:

  • taking reasonable steps to keep health and safety knowledge up to date, 
  • understanding the PCBU’s operations and any hazards or risks associated with them, and 
  • ensuring and verifying that the PCBU has the resources and processes to meet its duties.

If you are a volunteer officer then while you have the responsibilities of an officer, you are exempt from liability if you fail to meet this duty.

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Everyone involved in our community group is a volunteer. Do we have to worry about health and safety laws?

If every person in your community group is a volunteer and there are no employees, then yours is a “volunteer association” under the Health and Safety at Work Act and not a PCBU.

This means that you don’t have any duties under the health and safety legislation, but of course it’s still important to do what you can to make sure everyone is safe.

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Do I have health and safety obligations if I give someone room and board in exchange for doing work – but I don’t pay them money?

It will depend on whether you would be considered a PCBU and whether your boarder would be considered a worker.

If your boarder is doing on-going work that is of direct benefit to your business (e.g. they are working and boarding with you on your organic orchard for six months as a WWOOF volunteer), then yes - you are responsible for providing a safe working environment for your boarder. 

In this situation your boarder also obligations under health and safety law as a volunteer worker.

Note that if the arrangement is short-term, then you still have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy environment, but your boarder won’t have the same health and safety obligations as a volunteer worker would.

If the work being done is not related to a business (the person is repairing things around your home in return for board) then neither of you have health and safety obligations toward each other.

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Who is responsible if one of the pupils or volunteer parents is injured during a school trip?

The responsibility for the safety of participants in a school trip lies with the school board of trustees (e.g. in setting policies to keep pupils, paid staff, volunteers and others safe); however everyone participating in the event also has responsibilities (e.g. to comply with the school's health and safety policies).

The PCBU for a school is the school’s board of trustees. 

If someone is seriously hurt as a result of failure to comply with health and safety responsibilities, the school board as an entity can be fined but board members (except for the principal) cannot be prosecuted. A principal, teacher, parent or student could be prosecuted if they are found to have committed a major offence.

You can read more about health and safety responsibilities in schools, in this guide from the Ministry of Education.