Everyone has a tradie mate or family member who can help out.

When owner building comes to mind, most run off a list of family members or friends or friends of friends who will help out during the construction period. A brickie here and chippie there, and a backhoe owning brother- in-law. And then there’s the good old retired family member who can supervise the whole project. All sounds doable, and why wouldn’t a family member help out; after all that’s what family is all about!

Wrong. The idea could place you and your family at great risk and ruin it for everyone for a very long time – not to mention the next Christmas or children’s birthday function.

A voluntary worker is a person who is unpaid for their efforts or receives no reward or where no quote or written agreement on costs is in place before the work begins.

Voluntary workers are not covered by workers compensation and in the event of an injury on site they may not receive any relief or compensation for lost income or recovery of medical expenses. Long-term injury or physical incapacitation may leave your family member without any financial support.

An owner builder is the ultimate site controller. In the event of serious injury, the owner builder will be held accountable. A reasonable Construction and Public Liability Insurance Policy will protect the owner builder, but not voluntary workers. Owner builders using voluntary workers expose themselves to two serious areas of risk:

  1. The exclusion of cover in insurance policies for property or personal loss, either directly or indirectly caused by or contributed to as a result of actions voluntary workers; and
  2. Being called upon to pay compensation in the event of injury or disablement or death to a voluntary worker. Construction insurance including public liability will not cover the owner builder in these circumstances.

Owner builders can mitigate their exposure and provide adequate support and protection to their voluntary worker(s) by:

  1. Providing the voluntary worker(s) with an appropriate personal accident insurance policy;
  2. Requesting the voluntary worker(s) to review their existing personal accident insurance policy and superannuation cover to establish precise cover against the upcoming project; and
  3. Taking out voluntary workers insurance cover.

Voluntary workers insurance products are available and may be appropriate in some circumstances. However, in the view of the writer, most do not provide adequate benefits which would satisfactory compensate for injury or more serious longer term disablement. For example an injury benefit of $500 per week would not only constitute an insult to most working Australians, but a family member is unlikely to be able to live off these poverty sums. Ultimately, and in times of desperation an injured worker will seek compensation from an owner builder.

Any insurance is not good enough, it must compensate appropriately. Even more important, if it’s your family we are talking about.