A sweeping plan to harmonise Occupational Health and Safety laws across Australia has met with discordant voices since its introduction last month in NSW and Queensland.

The new laws are due to come into force in other states later this year, and may be on a collision course with those who remain unconvinced by the Commonwealth’s recommendations.

Under the new legislation, volunteers will be reclassified as ‘workers’ who will require training in OHS legal processes.

All organisations using volunteers will be under a legal obligation to train and equip their ‘workers’ adequately. Volunteers would also be individually liable to prosecution, if they are deemed not to have taken reasonable care in the workplace.

Previously, each state has its own OHS laws. Since the announcement a wave of concern has been expressed by churches, community welfare groups and not-for-profits, who are concerned about the costs of compliance.

Mr George Lekakis, CEO of Fronditha Care told Neos Kosmos that the nationwide plan could have very serious implications for Fronditha, which provides aged care services in Victoria and NSW.

“If there is a new regime of compliance, the least we can expect is a period of consultation, so we can discuss the merits of what they are proposing to do,” said Mr Lekakis.

Fronditha has over 150 volunteers carrying out a range of different work activities, including visiting residents, driving buses, being involved in activity groups and helping with the preparation of food.

“If the new requirements are onerous, then we’ve really got to rethink the way in which we manage the recruitment and supervision of volunteers, said Fronditha’s chief.

“Bless they’re souls, they’re wonderful people, and we couldn’t do things without them, literally.”

Asked to comment on the situation in Victoria, Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips told Neos Kosmos that the Victorian Government was “deeply concerned that the Commonwealth’s legislation could have far-reaching impacts on community organisations, by imposing significant compliance costs and discouraging volunteers.”

The changes, which the minister described as “ill-conceived,” could result in foster carers being classified as ‘workers’ and their homes as ‘workplaces’. The minister added: “Victoria already has Australia’s best OHS system, which has produced a record low injury rate.

“The impact of this legislation on not-for-profit organisations including carers is another example of why these changes should not be rushed.” The minister said that Victoria had initiated its own regulatory impact statement to assess the full impact of the Commonwealth’s legislation, before it makes a final decision on the adoption of the laws.