Western Australian Premier, Alan Carpenter, is to be applauded for stating that the Parliament is a workplace. This sounds like stating the bleeding obvious but Parliament has often turned a blind eye to this fact.
Certainly, the Premier is in election mode so there is an additional context in this period to everything he says. On 22 August 2008, he was talking about a working bar that exists in the State Parliament and how inappropriate it is. The media reported him saying:
“Parliament House is a work place, the members of parliament should not be able to drink freely during working hours,” Mr Carpenter said. “Having a bar serving alcohol during working hours is completely out of step with community expectations. It is completely unacceptable that members of parliament are able to sit in a bar in their workplace and drink when they should be working on behalf of the community.”
There may be good reasons for having a bar in a workplace, but it may be inappropriate for workers to use the facility during business hours. For years, many workplaces have introduced policies concerning drugs and alcohol to, in my opinion primarily, to cover themselves against legal action. Thankfully such policies can also have a workplace safety role in the reduction of impairment.
Impairment relates to one’s fitness for work and is easiest to understand in the transport industries where one person is responsible for the safety of many members of the public. But I have never understood why the logical extension of impairment to decision making in other workplaces has not be made.
In a workplace, such as a Parliament, or a goverment building, where decisions are made that will affect the safety and welfare of the public, decisions should be made with no impairment, Policies should not be decided over a couple of bottles of scotch which was reported to be done by an education minister in Victoria several years ago. Another politician was “under-the-weather” in Federal parliament some years ago, even though the current Federal Parliament has no bar onthe premises.
Considering that Parliaments are workplaces, the governments should review other hazards that are being addressed in other Australian workplaces. The top of the list would be reasonable working hours, fatigue and stress. In most Parliaments, the security issue is being dealt with but workplace bullying could be applicable.
Alan Carpenter’s comments were political statements in an election campaign so they have a dubious weight but let’s start thinking of Parliaments as workplaces and start seeing our politicians as exemplars in OHS. If safety culture starts with leaders and safety champions, then can we blame workers and business operators who follow our leaders’ examples?