Christmas in the Workplace and OH&S

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Overtime and going home late is now a work health and safety issue

It’s that time of year again, CHRISTMAS! For an occupational health and safety officer this can mean many things. It’s first time to plan a work safe Christmas party, and secondly a time to look at the year as a whole and where any OHS hazards or issues could be fixed or new policies put in place for next year. As an employer or safety representative, you have a few obligations that are important to maintain over the holiday seasons.

Christmas Decorations in the Workplace

Christmas decorations and their relevance to OHS can be a heated issue in the workplace. It has been argued that ceiling and wall decorations, as well as the typical Christmas tree pose an occupational health and safety risk to employees. Many safety representatives have approved the idea of a small office Christmas tree with either new in-warranty lights and if not new then in-warranty and tested within the past year. Others have argued that the extra decoration can pose a fire hazard.

Generally, over the holiday period, there is not a substantial difference in the amount of workplace related accidents reported. And, though there are no specific rules or guidelines regarding Christmas decorations in the office, to combat OHS related incidents, safety officers are using people to adhere to the following advice:

• No standing on desks or chairs in attempt to hand decorations
• Do not hand items on or around your PC screens as this could be a serious fire hazard
• Ensure decorations are not placed near a fire alarm
• Ensure decorations are not in the way of any
• Do not leave any Christmas lights on for long periods of time, like overnight, due to fire risks
• Another option is to get a commercial business to set-up install and decorate your office (one who will be OHS compliant)
• Don’t allow objects such as candles which are a large contributor to fire related incidents
• When purchasing an artificial tree, look for a fire resistant label
• Place the Christmas tree away from any source of heat
• Ensure all lighting has been through safety testing
• Look for cracked sockets, loose connections or frayed wires
• Ensure you reply bulbs with ones of the same wattage
• Use caution when removing all lighting and decorations (an do not tug at lighting cords)

Christmas Parties and OH&S

Spend Christmas at your workplace with these OHS and WHS remindersHaving the annual Christmas party is a great way to encourage team-building between staff and is a fantastic way to reward employees for the year of hard work. However, as an employer or safety representative, you have the responsibility to ensure the safety of all employees at work related Christmas functions.

There are several steps you can take to ensure compliance with OHS regulations and minimize accident and workplace health and safety compensation claims. As a safety officer it is also a good idea to ensure all policies and procedures relating to behaviour and expectations are in place.

• Ensure responsible alcohol consumption (have water and a variety of non-alcoholic drinks available to employees and also serving drinks like wine and beer – as opposed to spirits)
• Along with providing a variety of non-alcoholic beverages, ensure there is ample food available as well
• Ensure all employees and managers aware aware of appropriate standards of conduct
• Have an appropriate supervisor
• Have a complaints system in place
• Take appropriate action if an issue arises
• It is a good idea to have transportation available for employees, whether that be a hired bus or providing them with cab-charge vouchers (this also helps to safeguard you against employees who drive under the influence and cause accidents)
• Organise a process for the supervisor, or management staff in general for the treatment of a non-complying employee (also make sure management or the supervisor is appropriately trained to handle situations as they arise)
• Ensure a bartender on a licensed premises serves the alcohol (if employees have the option to serve themselves, this can encourage excessive consumption of alcohol)
• Have a definitive ending time one the party itself, as well as the ‘happy hour’ period where alcohol is served
• Do not organize any form of an ‘after party’
• If your employees have families it can be tricky whether to invite both the partner and their children. If alcohol is to be served and children are attending it should be made explicitly clear before the party that under no circumstances will minors be permitted to drink alcohol

Its also a great idea to make the venue chosen look festive.  A Christmas tree is one of the best ways to do this. You could even consider asking employees what kinds of decorations they would like to see at the party (to ensure your decorations are inclusive of everyone). Merry Christmas to everyone, enjoy the festive season and good luck for the festive season and the planning of your next office Christmas party.

The above article comprises of some great tips and tricks when it comes to OHS requirements and Christmas. It is informative only and you should check with your own safety representative or work place health and safety body for the most up to date advice.

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