In the past, we’ve examined the breadth of WHS obligations that you, as an employer, need to consider when it comes to protecting the employees and contractors in your care on the construction site. That said, many employers remain unsure about their responsibilities within the grey area of work-related events and staff parties. To what extent do employees still fall within your duty of care, and how do you keep staff safe at work functions?
Your responsibilities as an employer
Even when your staff are 'off the clock', as an employer you could still be responsible for keeping staff safe at work-related events. This is where things can get confusing.
Obviously, when workers are on-site or within the workplace, the standard OHS/WHS regulations apply. But in legal terms, employers still face a duty of care any time their employees are required to be present at an off-site function. This not only includes travel to and from work, training sessions and work-related meetings, but also extends to work parties or events that employees are encouraged to participate in.
In these instances, employers are still responsible for implementing the same health and safety protocols that typically apply to the workplace.
Tips for keeping employees safe at work functions
Just because you’re outside of the normal workplace, health and safety practices must still be followed by employees as well. Staff are still obliged to be responsible, respectful, and not go entirely off the rails — it’s still considered a work environment!
For this reason, it’s important to deliver a clear and common-sense message to those employed under your care when it comes to alcohol consumption. Adding alcohol to the mix at work functions or the annual company Christmas party ― while an entirely reasonable way to relax and bond with the team ― becomes a tricky area for employers. Just like you have a responsibility to protect staff from injury and minimise risk on the construction site, as an employer, you have a similar duty of care in protecting them from overconsumption or injury when alcohol is involved at a work-related event. Either way, you’re left exposed to litigation if this duty of care is breached.
In preparing for a work function or party, consider:
- sending an email to employees reminding them of their continued health and safety responsibilities when they’re not ‘working’;
- responsible service of alcohol — provide non-alcoholic drink alternatives, serve plenty of food, and keep a sensible limit on the bar tab if the function is held at a licensed venue;
- serve drinks in plastic or non-breakable vessels to prevent cuts and accidents if people get a little tipsy;
- pre-arranging transport or designated drivers so that employees make it home safely;
- reporting any incidents of personal injury or property damage immediately, using the same reporting protocols that would be used in the workplace. This is your legal obligation as an employer, because if an accident does occur you could be held liable;
- reminding staff that sexual harassment or racial harassment — even in the form of a ‘joke’ — is still entirely unacceptable at a work function, just as it is within the workplace itself; and
- having disciplinary procedures in place (in accordance with your organisation’s policy) should any employees behave in a manner deemed dangerous or inappropriate.
Once the function winds up, employees choosing to leave and continue the party at another venue are no longer considered to be under their employer’s care. However, in cases where a worker has simply enjoyed a moderate at after work drinks and consequently had an accident on the trip home, the Workers Compensation Act 1987 dictates that employers may still be liable for any injuries incurred. So it’s best to plan ahead, observe WHS procedures regardless of the circumstances — while it might seem overly formal and cumbersome, it could save both you and your staff a lot of grief in the long run.
For more posts about work health and safety obligations and how to keep your employees safe when working within the construction industry, please visit the Latham blog. Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws differ in each Australian State and Territory. While all jurisdictions have been moving from former Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations to the WHS framework in recent years, this transition has occurred at different rates according to State and Territory government policy. Regardless, the key elements of WHS laws generally apply to all workplaces nationally — including those operating in the construction industry.