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Legal help for community organisations

Work health and safety

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The purpose of the Work Health and Safety laws (WHS laws) are to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees, volunteers and other persons who are at, or come in to contact with a workplace.

Different laws exist in each state and territory. New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory, ACT and Tasmania have ‘harmonised’ their WHS laws by enacting similar legislation, based on an agreed ‘model’ WHS Act. This means that in most states and territories and at the Commonwealth level, WHS laws impose similar obligations.

In November 2020, the Governor of Western Australia assented to the new Work Health and Safety Act 2020. Once the Work Health and Safety Regulations are finalised (expected to occur in 2021) the Western Australian Act will come into force. This means Western Australia will have also harmonised their legislation with the rest of the states and territories, except for Victoria. 

Victoria has not yet adopted the Model Laws and has retained its own Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) legislation. See our guide for Victoria below.

Until the new Work Health and Safety Act 2020 comes into force in Western Australia, see our guide for Western Australia below.

Each jurisdiction has its own regulator to oversee and enforce work health and safety and administer workers' compensation schemes in its state or territory.

National guide to work health and safety laws

Our national guide on 'Community organisations and work health and safety laws' (below) covers when WHS Laws apply to not-for-profit organisations and key WHS duties. 

Additional resources

In Victoria, WHS in the workplace (referred to as occupational health and safety) is regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (the OHS Act) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic) (collectively, Victoria's OHS laws). There are different laws in other states and territories and your organisation will need to check these if it operates outside of Victoria (you can view information about other jurisdictions by adjusting your jurisdiction selection in the toolbar at the top of this page).

The laws set out various duties that organisations and individuals must comply with in the workplace. The laws are regulated and enforced by a Victorian government authority known as the Victorian Worksafe Authority (WorkSafe). Worksafe may prosecute organisations that breach (do not comply with) the OHS law duties that they are required to comply with.

Because a lot of the information and advertisements about Victoria’s OHS laws mention or depict businesses, some people think that the laws only apply to for-profit, business organisations. This is not correct. The OHS Act is very broad and has the potential to apply to all Victorian community organisations (both incorporated and unincorporated). The OHS Act will apply to all community organisations that have employees, but may also apply to community organisations that are completely volunteer-based where they operate in a 'workplace'.

The information on this website is intended as a guide only, and is not legal advice. If you or your organisation has a specific legal issue, you should seek advice before making a decision about what to do.

For comprehensive information, see our guide to Victoria's OHS laws. This includes information on:

  • how Victoria's OHS laws apply to not-for-profit community organisations
  • specific duties under Victoria's OHS laws
  • who may be legally responsible under Victoria's OHS laws and what liability can flow from breaches of OHS
  • steps to comply with Victoria's OHS laws and other employee safety obligations
  • what to do if there is a workplace incident - initial response and notification requirements, and
  • powers of the Victorian WorkCover Authority

Child safety

When you work with children, you have a legal responsibility to ensure their physical, mental and emotional safety. In addition to the duty of care your community organisation owes employees, clients and possibly members of the public, you should consider the special responsibilities you may have in relation to children that your organisation comes into contact with when providing services.

The following fact sheet covers Victoria’s compulsory Child Safe Standards and aims to help community organisations strengthen their child safety practices.

Additional resources

This Volunteering Victoria guide provides information for volunteer-involving organisations in Victoria on their obligations in ensuring the occupational health and safety of their volunteers. 

Last Updated: 14 September 2021

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