NSW Parliament extends benefits for volunteers injured in accidents

By Nathan Kennedy 

Volunteer firefighters, SES volunteers, surf life savers, marine rescue and volunteer rescue association workers injured during their volunteer work will now have access to greater benefits, following amendments to the Workers Compensation (Bush Fire, Emergency and Rescue Services) Act 1987, passed by the NSW Parliament in June 2022.

Background

While injuries suffered by volunteers during the course of their voluntary work are no less common or less serious than paid workers, volunteers are entitled to fewer benefits. This discrepancy arose from being covered under a different workers compensation scheme.

However, through the 2019 bushfires, Parliament recognised the importance and critical role volunteers played in the community and in saving lives. As a result, legislation was changed to equalise some of the benefits between volunteers and their paid counterparts.

The amendments brought greater benefits to volunteers and their family. It shortened the time taken for compensation for loss of income to reach an injured volunteer so that they are not out of pocket. It offers further protections for injured volunteers to rehabilitate and return to their role, or to a new one. It also addresses issues with funds management by the NSW Trustee and Guardian.

New benefits for volunteers

One of the most significant benefits arising from the amendment is that injured volunteers are now entitled to weekly payments of compensation and medical expenses on a provisional basis.

Many injured volunteers are unable to return to their work due to their injuries. Previously, they did not receive income or support until their insurance claim was lodged and the insurer had determined it was liable for the claim. This process could take several weeks and even months depending on the investigation.

The introduction of weekly payments of compensation addresses the lack of support during this initial period. Injured volunteers can now access weekly payments on a provisional basis while liability is assessed. Injured volunteers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of weekly payments, or until a liability decision is reached by the insurer.

Similarly, injured volunteers are now entitled to medical expenses of up to $10,000 while the insurer determines liability. The expenses can be claimed so long as the insurer is satisfied that it is likely the volunteer has suffered an injury and the insurer has not made a decision in relation to liability.

Furthermore, not all injured volunteers can return to their previous employment. Their injuries (whether physical or psychological) may prevent them from performing their role. They may need to return to their employment in a new role which may incur a cost. This cost has been recognised by Parliament and the amendments seek to address these out-of-pocket costs.

The amendments stipulate payments can be issued to assist injured volunteers who cannot return to their pre-accident role and have to move to a new role. Assistance of up to $1,000 for provision of education or training, transport, childcare, clothing, equipment or other similar service or assistance can be claimed from the insurer.

Parliament further recognised that some serious injuries would require more costly assistance. Accordingly, if the accident has caused serious permanent impairment, the injured volunteer may be entitled to up to $8,000 towards the cost of education or training to assist them to return to work.

Overall, the changes to the Workers Compensation (Bush Fire, Emergency and Rescue Services) Act 1987 bring benefits for injured volunteers more in line with their paid counterparts.

Contact

Nathan Kennedy

Nathan Kennedy

Partner, Head of Pro Bono & Community and ESG Co-Lead

Nathan is the firm's Head of Pro Bono & Community, his practice covers employment, administrative law and human rights.

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