In the lead-up to a Federal election, parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act employees may be exposed to, or expose other persons to, a greater range of health and safety risks in the workplace. Some key risks are identified below, along with suggestions for minimising those risks. This information is advisory only, and does not purport to identify all possible risks.
Parliamentarians’ Commonwealth-funded offices are fitted out to support safe working practices, and a range of services are available to minimise or eliminate the risks to workers, including electrical test and tagging, hazard and incident reporting mechanisms, and ergonomic assessments. Where work is carried out in other locations, parliamentarians should assess the risks associated with the location, and ensure that there are systems in place to eliminate or minimise those risks, for example, while:
- attending meetings
- briefing the media
- managing information stalls
- placing campaign posters, banners and corflutes
- handing out ‘how-to-vote’ cards for the re-election of their employer and promotional material, especially on polling day, or in other environments where crowd behaviour may be difficult to predict.
Commonwealth-funded offices are fitted out to support a limited number of workers safely. Parliamentarians should ensure that offices do not become overcrowded, and that all persons in the workplace are aware of both their duties to ensure the workplace remains safe and the systems that are in place to support safe work.
Further, when storing items, including campaign material, ensure it is stowed in a safe manner where there is no risk of persons tripping, or materials falling and injuring staff. Care should be taken to ensure that hallways and exits remain clear at all times.
Risks to psychological health
The lead-up to an election can be a stressful time. New or additional psychosocial hazards may emerge, associated with:
- increased workload and pressure
- greater public scrutiny than usual
- less capacity to control how, when and where work is performed
- concerns about change. Worry about change and uncertainty about work are key risk factors for mental ill health.
- It is important to recognise and respond to the early warning signs of mental ill health as an early intervention measure. Parliamentarians, and MOP(S) Act employees who supervise staff, should be ready to act early by initiating a conversation, or referring a staff member to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for MOP(S) Act employees, in response to the following early warning signs:
- changes in behaviour
- a decrease, or significant increase, in working hours, particularly if it is not associated with a work approach you have agreed on
- a decline (or dramatic improvement) in performance.
Articles on managing stress and looking after workers during times of change are available from the WHS library
Comcare publishes useful resources as part of its creating mentally healthy workplaces promotion.
The Employment Assistance Program (EAP) provides free, confidential and independent counselling services across Australia that can be accessed for personal or work-related issues. MOP(S) Act employees and their immediate family and/or household members may access up to three free counselling sessions each in a 12‑month period.
Counselling services for parliamentarians are provided by the relevant House Department.
As the campaign period is a time of heightened political awareness and activity, parliamentarians should consider the physical security of their workers. All MOP(S) Act employees and volunteers should be inducted into the processes used in each office to manage critical incidents and personal safety, such as the use of duress alarms, building security and arrangements to ensure workers are able to leave the workplace safely, particularly if they work alone or outside usual business hours. Consideration should also be given to the security of volunteers who are campaigning in the community, for example, doorknocking or running stalls at community events. Online training is available for MOP(S) Act employees on:
- ergonomics and manual handling
- safe travel.
Many parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act employees travel extensively in the lead-up to an election. Frequent travel increases the risks associated with musculoskeletal injuries, which can be caused or exacerbated by sitting still for long periods and by manual handling. Online training is available for MOP(S) Act employees on:
- ergonomics and manual handling
- safe travel
Working longer than usual hours, additional travel, additional interaction with members of the public, heightened tension, and for some, a potential threat to future employment are all features of the election period that could lead to a greater risk of fatigue and fatigue‑related incidents.
The fatigue management policy is currently under review. Information on fatigue management is available from:
Risks affecting volunteers and other unpaid workers
Parliamentarians have the same duties towards volunteers as for MOP(S) Act employees. Finance’s duties towards a volunteer that a parliamentarian engages are likely to be limited to duties connected with equipment and facilities that Finance provides.
Volunteers and other unpaid workers, such as work experience students, have no insurance cover under the Comcare arrangements for rehabilitation and compensation that apply to MOP(S) Act employees.
If a volunteer or other unpaid worker is injured in undertaking duties as directed by a parliamentarian, or on behalf of the parliamentarian, where the liability lies will depend on the facts and circumstances of the individual case and, in particular, the capacity of each party to influence and control the circumstances that led to the injury. Finance is therefore unable to advise parliamentarians of where liability would lie in advance of a particular case, and each parliamentarian should seek his or her own advice about the risk of being held liable in the event that a volunteer or other unpaid worker is injured.
For further information about work health and safety and volunteers, see Safe Work Australia's essential guide to Work Health and Safety for organisations that engage volunteers.