A correspondent asks for advice on the possible implications

… from a member of a volunteer fire service turning out under the influence of alcohol to an emergency call.  The scenario is that they did not drive to the station or drive the emergency vehicle.  I see responding to an emergency as a workplace even though a volunteer is not paid.  Besides the straight forward implications such as putting colleagues at risk.  Also What could be the implications for the officer in charge of the truck? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Being ‘under the influence of alcohol’ or having in the blood the prescribed concentration of alcohol are offences for drivers, but we’re asked to assume that this volunteer neither drove to the station nor did they drive the appliance so the relevant road rules are not the issue.

Even so if a person is ‘under the influence’ of alcohol, that is affected by alcohol they should not turn out.  The first implication is that they can be subject to the disciplinary proceedings of their service, provided the service has a policy on the issue.    So, for example, NSW Fire and Rescue’s Alcohol and other Drugs Policy says, at paragraph 3(1) ‘A firefighter must not: (a) come on duty while under the influence of alcohol or a drug…’ (Note my correspondent does not say he’s from NSWFR, I’ve just used their policy as an example).

It is well established that for the purpose of the Work Health and Safety legislation that has been adopted across all jurisdictions other than WA and Victoria, the term ‘worker’ includes a volunteer (see for example, Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) s 7).    As a worker, a volunteer must (s 28):

(a) take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety, and

(b) take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons, and

(c) comply, so far as the worker is reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by the person conducting the business or undertaking to allow the person to comply with this Act, and

(d) co-operate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the person conducting the business or undertaking relating to health or safety at the workplace that has been notified to workers.

That imposes obligations, enforced by the criminal law, to follow policy statements such as the relevant service’s alcohol policy and also not to undertake work that can impose a risk to others if the worker/volunteer is aware that they are affected by alcohol.

As for the ‘officer in charge of the truck’ I assume we’re talking about the crew leader/officer in charge.  Under WHS laws and no doubt service policy, people in the chain of command have obligations to both ensure that the policies are applied and also obligations to exercise their duties to reduce risks. It follows that a senior officer who failed to discharge his or her duties could also be subject to disciplinary action and, possible work health and safety prosecution (though to be fair, that is unlikely).


Not only a senior officer, but any member, should tell a member who is under the influence that he or she is not to turn out.