20 Jul 2017
Christmas party venue selection: the foundation for a good, safe time
By Michael Byrnes
It might be one of the less exciting aspects of event planning but the wrong choice of Christmas function venue could be a work safety nightmare waiting to happen.
When you mention Christmas in July, it's understandably assumed to be a reference to the faux Christmas functions timed to take account of wintery conditions in the southern hemisphere.
For those organising the end of year Christmas function, however, around now is the time suitable venues need to be booked before the key dates in late November to mid-December are taken.
The starting point, sometimes overlooked, is that the Christmas function venue will become, for the duration of the event, a "workplace" within the meaning of the applicable work health and safety legislation. That means the obligations under such legislation to identify risks, and to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or minimise such risks, will apply to the venue. As such, poor venue selection will appreciably increase the legal risks associated with the Christmas function.
Before selecting and booking the venue, here are a few factors for those entrusted with the responsibility to consider (and actively ask the venue about):
Location of the venue: Is the venue in an inaccessible or dangerous location? Sometimes venues that offer something different or unusual are also off the beaten track. Consider how employees will get to the venue and, perhaps more importantly, how they will get home. This is particularly so for venues in areas where public transport, taxis or ride share services will either not be available, difficult to access or only available at exorbitant cost. The risk of things going wrong can be exacerbated by venues near a beach or set in the bush. A creative inclination to choose a venue in an exotic location may be overridden by more pragmatic safety concerns.
Venue layout: The space in which the function will be held is an important consideration. Venues that are expansive (particularly where outdoor areas are involved) or like a rabbit warren could lead to attendees being dispersed in a way that makes security, control and management of the event much more difficult. It potentially gives cover to those who might engage in wrongdoing.
Venue due diligence: Before booking the venue, obtain as much information as you can about the specific risks associated with it, and ideally, do an inspection. Risks to look out for include steep stairs, trip hazards, slippery surfaces and heights. If there are such risks, how does the venue generally manage them? If they don't, that might set off alarm bells about their commitment to safety.
Responsible service of alcohol: Given the obligations of licensees an event organiser should be able to take this for granted but it would nevertheless be a mistake to do so. You don’t need to be a moralising temperance advocate to be concerned about the way alcohol can fuel troublesome behaviour. Poor alcohol service practices are sometimes the first link in a sequence of events leading to a safety incident. Specifically ask the venue about its compliance with responsible service of alcohol principles, in particular the practical ways in which those principles are implemented and enforced during an event.
Emergency evacuation procedures: Check with the venue that they have emergency evacuation procedures if there's a serious incident or disaster. By definition it's highly unlikely these procedures will need to be invoked but it's nevertheless important to know they’re in place. It also acts as a safety litmus test; the fact a venue has not properly planned for the possibility of a calamitous event may be indicative of a lax or deficient safety culture.
Security and surveillance: Determine what security the venue has available during the Christmas function. Also consider how that security might be supplemented if necessary during the course of the event. Is the venue committed to using sensible security professionals who have the sophistication to manage rather than exacerbate issues? Is the venue notorious for violent or other criminal incidents? It's also prudent to inquire about the venue's policy for obtaining surveillance footage. While it's to be hoped it's not required, security footage can be crucial in determining the sequence of events after an alleged incident.
Don't go near the water: It's trite but true ‒ water and alcohol don't mix. An accessible pool at a venue may cause problems if intoxicated attendees decide to take a late night dip. Harbour cruises also seem to be in a league of their own for incidents. If that option is taken ensure that the cruise operator has a good reputation, a professional approach and is fully capable of managing the inherent risks involved. While you might be sentimental about the university booze cruise of days gone by, that standard is not going to be acceptable.
Sound venue selection sets the foundation for a safe, successful Christmas function. Avoid spaces replete with unmanaged hazards or venue operators who puts a far greater premium on ambience than safety. Remember, the venue becomes a temporary extension to the organisation's workplace for the duration of the event. Event organisers should consider consulting with, or perhaps even fully involving, their organisation's work health and safety professionals, as part of the planning process. The same rigorous, systematic approach taken to managing risks and hazards where the work is performed needs to be taken to the Christmas function venue where those workers are celebrating.