A sport’s culture of excessive alcohol at work functions

Each November safety publications carry guidances and warnings about unacceptable conduct at company Christmas parties.  Often these warnings are around moderating alcohol consumption and showing due respect to others.  One of the most recent legal advisories was issued in late-2008 by Maria Saraceni of the Australian law firm, Deacons.

This week in Sydney the National Rugby League (NRL)  faced its latest controversy when Brett Stewart of the Manly club was charged with sexual assault at a work function.  The NRL today issued harsh penalties on both Stewart (five match ban) and the club ($100,000).  To understand the context of the penalties and the media hoo-hah surrounding this it would be necessary to look at the many instances of assault and abuse associated with rugby league, and other male-dominated sports, in Australia.

The issue has remained largely on the sports pages of the newspapers except in New South Wales.  The fact that a sporting club was involved and a sport with a sad history in this area has dominated reporting and the OHS, safety management and employer liability angle has been lost in the rush.

The NRL media statement (no direct link available), quoted in part by the ABC, shows that the NRL CEO, David Gallop, is well aware of the safety management issues.

“Brett could not have been in a more high profile position of trust for the game on the eve of a season than he was last week and we believe he should have recognized the honour that he was given and the responsibility that went with it,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.  “By any estimation there was an abuse of alcohol in the aftermath of a club function that has led in some part to the game being placed under enormous pressure.

“The players and the clubs need to know that we are not going to accept that.

“The Manly club has today delivered its report into the function and the measures simply weren’t sufficient to stop drinking getting out of hand in the case of some of the players. Brett was both refused service of alcohol and asked leave the premises.”

Section 20 (2) of the NRL Code of Conduct which states:

“Every person bound by this Code shall, whether or not he is attending an official function arranged for the NRL, the NRL Competition, the Related Competitions, Representative Matches, the ARL Competitions or a Club, conduct himself at all times in public in a sober, courteous and professional manner.”

Peter Fitzsimmons explains why the general conduct of rugby players needs changing.

“They [rugby league clubs] must fix it because they are a powerful tribe within our community, and that community has had a gutful not just of the atrocities, but of the NRL promising to fix it, to educate them, to discipline them, blah, blah, blah, year after year, with no results.”

Kevin Jones

Important victory for aircraft maintenance workers

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs may have to pay compensation to the maintenance crews of F-111 fighter planes.  In the 1970s employees worked within the fuel tanks of the fighters with little, if any, PPE.  In 2004 these workers were excluded from a healthcare and compensation scheme even though, according to one media report, evidence was presented that the workers had

  • a 50% increased risk of cancer
  • a two-fold increase in obstructive lung disease;
  • a two-and-a-half fold increase in sexual dysfunction; and
  • a two-fold increase in anxiety and depression.

One of the reasons the maintenance crews were denied compensation was that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had destroyed the maintenance records from before 1992.

An inquiry into the affair has received a submission from the commonwealth Ombudsman, John McMillan, and Labor MP, Arch Bevis, that strongly criticised the destruction and inadequacy of records.

In safety management, record-keeping is often seen, and dismissed, as “red tape”.  The reduction of red tape is not the elimination of red tape and the reality of Australia’s increasing litigious legal system is that more records need to be kept, and for longer, than ever before.

Perhaps, the government, in its pledge to reduce red tape and business costs, should look at the lawyers’ insistence to business that the first port-of-call after an industrial incident is to call them so that everything becomes covered by legal-client privilege.

Perhaps it is the pressure to create paperwork than the paperwork itself that is the problem.  In the case of the F-111 maintenance crews, regardless of the lack of paperwork, justice seems to be happening.  It is just sad that so much pain and suffering had to be endured before getting close to a resolution.

Click HERE for a personal reflection on the health issues of the workers from one of Australian Rugby League’s champions, Tommy Raudonikis.