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Don't let your office party turn into a nightmare

15 October 2013

Employers are being urged to take steps to protect their employees and the reputation of their business during the spring racing carnival and lead up to the Christmas silly season.

Phillip Collins, Head of Workplace Services at the Australian Drug Foundation, says that workplace celebrations can be notorious for over indulgence leading to embarrassing incidents, sexual harassment, violence or injury.

“We all have stories about work functions turning ugly when colleagues have too much to drink,” Mr Collins says.

“Alcohol use contributes to 11 per cent of workplace accidents and 5 per cent of all Australian workplace deaths."

Mr Collins said that while Australian research on workplace Christmas parties is slim, a survey in the US found:
• 13 per cent of people have been to a work Christmas function where there was inappropriate sexual behavior
• 43 per cent said there’d been drunkenness and drug abuse.

He adds that employers are responsible for looking after employee’s health and safety at a work function or Christmas party in the same way they do at work.

“Good alcohol management is needed to meet duty of care, reduce potential liability and minimise the risk of intoxication and alcohol related harm,” he says.

The Australian Drug Foundation recommends workplaces follow some simple rules to ensure that guests stay safe.

“There are many simple things you can incorporate into your planning from serving non-alcoholic drinks, making sure your bar staff are RSA trained and providing plenty of food,” says Mr Collins.

“Plan a day that’s not focused just on drinking. If you have an event that is really well organised, with lots of entertainment and activities, your guests will naturally drink less and you are less likely to have your party turn into a health and safety nightmare.”

The Australian Drug Foundation has a very effective event management program called GoodHost which helps businesses safeguard against potential incidents that can arise when alcohol is being served at a work function.

These recommendations are a sample of what has been developed as part of the program:

Workplace Party Planning Tips
1. Avoid “all-you-can-drink” events.
2. Don’t make alcohol the focus when promoting your celebration to staff.
3. Make sure everyone knows your company’s Code of Conduct before the event.
4. Consider limiting drinks to low and mid-strength beer and wine.
5. Avoid drinks with high alcohol content.
6. Stop service of alcohol during formalities and speeches.
7. Ensure your employees are being served by RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) trained bar staff.
8. Provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks.
9. Provide plenty of food and cater for all dietary requirements.
10. Keep everyone busy, entertained and well organised.

A more comprehensive downloadable checklist is available here.