Handling Health & Safety Better this Christmas

General / 25 April 2016
Handling Health & Safety Better this Christmas

Health and Safety is key to running a successful business.  We thought it timely this Christmas to remind you about how to comply with your legal obligations and ensure everyone enjoys going home safely to celebrate this holiday season.


Partying at Christmas

Many workplaces celebrate the end of another year by getting festive with wine, food and music.  But what happens if the Christmas party goes wrong?  Is an employer liable if an employee drinks to excess, falls over and breaks something or inappropriately grabs a colleague?  Could an employee lose their job if they were the culprit?  As always, it depends.  Think about where the party is, who is holding it, what steps you can take to make things safe, and what you would normally do at work (because you probably are!).  Not just because the law may require it, but because it’s the right thing to do.

For example, employers holding after work drinks on-site should consider canning it if they can’t do it safely.  Start by being a responsible host – its still a workplace and staff under the influence of alcohol can create a risk of harm if their behaviour gets boisterous.  Ensure adequate food accompanies any alcohol being served and that only those aged 18 and over are drinking.  Put on a taxi to stop staff driving home after too many, and make it clear in your drug and alcohol policy that showing up to work under the influence the next day is a disciplinary matter.  Lead by example!

Take the time to outline what appropriate standards of behaviour are in your policies.  Although it’s ok to relax a little bit, tell staff its not a chance to overstep personal boundaries simply because it’s the Christmas party.  An employee inappropriately grabbing a colleague cannot hope to excuse themselves by saying they weren’t at work or had too much to drink:  But for the employment relationship, it wouldn’t have happened – they risk being fired for misconduct at the Christmas party even if it is outside normal working hours.

And while we’re on policy – you might like to sharpen up your social media one too!

With all this in mind I could understand why a weary employer might be feel like being the Grinch who stole Christmas – No party, no booze, nothing spontaneous and certainly, no fun. But the reality is that many employers enjoy the festivities themselves and it’s a balancing act between being responsible about health and safety, and eliminating risky behaviour.  If you’re unsure what’s best this festive season, please ask!


The Legal Bits

Currently the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 places the primary responsibility for staff safety squarely on employers.  An employer must take “all practicable steps” to ensure the safety of staff at work.  But what does this actually mean?  At the very least you must:

Have an effective hazard management system in place that identifies existing, new and significant hazards on an ongoing basis (Think:  Living, Breathing Hazard Register and Controls).
Eliminating significant hazards.But if you can’t or it’s not practical to, you must isolate or minimise significant hazards such as ensuring staff use suitable clothing and equipment (Think:  PPE).
Train and supervise staff to ensure they have the right knowledge and experience they need to work safely on the job, and with any plant or substances they’re using (Think:  New staff Inductions)
Involve staff in health and safety matters by ensuring they get reasonable opportunities to help you improve it (Think:  Regular meetings and discussions on health and safety)
Monitor an employee’s exposure to hazards and obtain their informed consent to monitoring their health in relation to a hazard (Think:  Health Checks and Drug and Alcohol Testing)
Record and notify Worksafe where appropriate of accidents and serious harm (Think:  Prioritising Paperwork).
As well as all this, employers must ensure their staff don’t do anything that might harm anyone else in the workplace, and that any contractors aren’t harmed while doing work you’ve engaged them to do.  And if you control a workplace, you also have to take all practicable steps to ensure hazards don’t harm anyone else.  Employees need to ensure their own safety and that they don’t cause harm to others too.

If an accident happens in your workplace and an employee or someone else is harmed, WorkSafe or the Court will consider whether you have taken all the steps that were reasonably practicable to take in all the circumstances to protect staff.  What the industry is doing and the “current state of knowledge” about harm, how to prevent it and the availability and cost of the means you could use, are all relevant.  This is why having a health and safety policy and plan tailored specifically to your workplace is so important.

An employer’s obligations will only increase under the Health and Safety Reform Bill.  It will become even more important for you to ensure you have a health and safety policy and plan tailored to your workplace – it’s a no brainer.  Sign up to our updates to find out how this Bill progresses through Parliament.

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