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The Work Christmas Party Is Coming!!!

We all like to think the annual Christmas party is a time to celebrate and reflect on the years’ achievements; however we also need to be aware that these gatherings can be fraught with risks. Some such risks could be physical Work Health and Safety (WHS) risks at venues such as slip, trip and fall hazards, or security, occupational violence, sexual and/or racial harassment, bullying and more broadly for your organisation; reputation risks.

When we look at our legal obligations, the work Christmas party will be considered part of the work environment, and having a connection with the employment of workers, therefore the duty to provide a safe workplace will continue to apply for the duration of the function. This vital point needs to be considered when arranging such events.

Christmas and end of year functions are great for team-building and rewarding staff. However, when workers let their hair down in the spirit of the season – especially when alcohol is involved, anything can happen – and sometimes does!

In the past there have been cases where employers (PCBU) and employees (Workers) have been liable under Work Health and Safety laws for incidents that have occurred at work Christmas parties and other work related functions.

– In South Australia, a worker was injured at a Christmas function at her workplace and was granted Workers’ Compensation

– Four Victorian workers were prosecuted after they were found to be playing around with chemicals at the work Christmas party resulting in one worker receiving severe burns

– In NSW a drunken worker who injured himself after work drinks was granted Workers compensation – the NSW Workers Compensation Commission ruled that socialising with the clients was in the course of his employment.

– A Queensland worker injured her back while helping out at the work Christmas party – she was entitled to compensation as she sustained the injury in the course of her work

This serves as a warning that although Christmas parties are usually outside normal working hours, employers (PCBU’s) are still responsible for the health and safety of their workers.

The rules that apply in the workplace also apply to work functions, including Christmas parties, even if the function takes place off-site. Therefore your policies and procedures relating to discrimination, sexual harassment, drugs and alcohol and Work health and safety still apply.

PCBUs should have up-to-date workplace policies, procedures and a clear complaints resolution process. You may wish to consider a specific code of conduct for work functions, or ensure conduct at work functions is clearly defined in your existing code of conduct, stating that failure to comply with the code can result in a worker facing disciplinary action or losing their job. A simple email reminding staff about appropriate behaviour and responsible alcohol consumption, and attaching the code of conduct document to the party invitation, can be effective.

If you organisation already has appropriate processes in place, you may only need to remind workers of their responsibilities. However if your workplace has in the past, not recognised that work functions carry risks; although leaving it very late, you should assess your proposed function and venue now.

PCBUs have a duty of care under the WHS legislation for their workers and that duty extends to the Christmas party or at other work related functions whether or not they are held off-site or on-site.

As an employer (PCBU), you need to perform a risk assessment. You must identify the hazards, assess the risks and implement controls and you need to be able to show you conducted your due diligence in keeping the risks as low as reasonably practicable.

– Risk Assessment – Inspect the site (venue) – document a risk assessment that identifies all foreseeable hazards and their defined controls.

– Manage Alcohol – Excessive alcohol consumption is a major contributing factor to dangerous and inappropriate behaviours and is always a key risk – ensure that there are non-alcoholic alternatives. Even if your workplace does not provide alcohol at the function and patrons purchase drinks, you must ensure that consumption is managed.

– Remind workers of their obligations and your expectations regarding responsible behaviour – reinforce policies and procedures regarding WHS, EEO and your company’s Code of Conduct.

– Provide food – less alcohol will be consumed if a meal or finger food is provided.

– Set reasonable start and finish times for the event.

– Supervise the event – ensure someone is supervising the event. This person should monitor safety hazards such as slip trip and fall hazards, wet floors etc., and monitor behaviour, including alcohol consumption.

– Travel – how will your workers travel to and from the event? Some organisations provide Cab vouchers; provide a courtesy bus or other transport means. Do not allow workers to drive home from the event if they have been consuming alcohol. Discuss this with workers prior to the event to allow them to make arrangements for collection etc. If transport is provided by the PCBU this can be included as a control measure in your risk assessment.

While we are looking at the Christmas party, the same risk management approach should be taken all year round for all work functions. Organisations need to look at their risk management programs to ensure that control measures, policies and procedures can effectively manage these risks.

This process needs to be ongoing to enforce safe behaviours and a safety culture all year round both at the workplace and at work related functions.

Wishing you all a very Safe and Happy Festive Season

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