Every year, around this time, law firms and OHS regulators release statements and good OHS advice about the risks of Christmas and end-of-year work parties. But companies who wait until now to introduce control measures and policies for the risks of occupational violence, sexual harassment and reputational damage have, largely, missed the opportunity to effectively manage these risks.
The need to enforce safe behaviours at work functions is not a seasonal process but one that is integral to the establishment of a safe workplace culture the year round. This is not to say that a friendly reminder is not useful but, if managed well, it should be nothing more than a reminder.
Of all the OHS advice for parties, Workplace Health & Safety Queensland is most succinct:
- “remind staff about workplace policies in particular bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination
- serve alcohol responsibly
- provide food and non-alcoholic drinks
- ensure underage staff are not served alcohol
- choose a safe venue with access to public transport, provide cab vouchers and encourage nominated ‘non-drinking’ drivers
- ensure wait staff are briefed on limiting or denying alcohol to intoxicated staff
- make it clear to staff that the employer’s responsibility ceases at the end of the function and if staff choose to continue the evening, that they are responsible for their own safety
- managers should set the example by drinking responsibly.”
Some companies support these measures by issuing each staff member a taxi voucher for use to and from the Christmas function. This is a simple control measure that is very effective. Some companies may be concerned that such a voucher system could be abused but there are ways of managing this risk. Perhaps, the vouchers could be valid for a strictly limited time. Perhaps only one voucher is issued for the trip to the function and additional vouchers, for the return trip, are available at the event.
A major benefit from such a process is that employers feel valued and the belive that the company is so concerned about their safety that it is willing to invest money. To a large extent such a message is worth far more than any safety-themed gift that the employees may otherwise receive.
What should not be projected is that these safety guidelines are implemented to reduce legal or risk exposure as this can “suck the fun out” of the event. The control measures must be implemented with a positive attitude to reinforce employee sfatey. In this way, the function is already half-way to being a success.