Planking—a work health and safety issue?

Planking is, as I’m sure you’re aware, the act of lying face down with arms to the sides of the body, in unusual public spaces and photographing it and uploading to your favourite social media site. While many would consider the art of planking as a bit of harmless fun, its competitive nature means the more daring the location, the better. As silly as this may be, it’s the daring side of it that has the potential to create big health and safety issues at work.

It was hard to miss the headlines about a number of Woolworths’ staff being dismissed following planking pranks. The employees from three states were sacked after colleagues reported a number of incidents to Woolworths’ management. These incidents included planking on trolleys, display units, shelves and even a meat mincing machine.

Of course it wasn’t planking per se which led to the dismissals, but the dangerous nature of the prank which created clear breaches of workplace health and safety. The workers were fired for serious breaches of health and safety guidelines—for putting their own safety and that of their customers at risk. McDonald’s Australia is also investigating a planking incident at one of its restaurants.

With this current spate of planking pranks, it’s no surprise that employers are genuinely concerned over their employees’ welfare. Planking cannot be seen as a harmless stunt when it results in serious endangerment for which the business is responsible.

To protect your business and your employees in the face of this new craze, here are a number of important things you need to do:

  1. Review your workplace health and safety policies. Implementing a duty of care requires everyone in the workplace to be aware of potential hazards and take steps to prevent workplace accidents and injuries.
  2. Communicate and enforce the rules set down in your occupational health and safety policies. Hold extra training sessions if required.
  3. Be clear to your employees that planking is inappropriate behaviour and seen as a breach of workplace health and safety.
  4. Establish a hazard identification and workplace assessment process.
  5. Investigate any reports of planking and take necessary action which may include formal warnings, suspension of employment or even dismissal.

Can you fire someone for planking? No. As the Woolworths case highlights, it was the dangerous nature of planking and the blatant disregard of workplace health and safety guidelines that led to the dismissals.

Employment laws in Australia are a highly complex area for any business owner. But it’s critical that you hire, manage and terminate employees by the book.

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