National

Angst from ATO public servants over how long it took to change an office lightbulb

The number of public servants it takes to change a little bulb is quite a few.

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 Photo: Michel O'Sullivan

The Australian Taxation Office now no longer pulls out one or two light tubes from the roof if staff are complaining about brightness, according to internal correspondence. In fact, it can turn into a lengthy bureaucratic process and has caused angst among ATO staff.

The internal emails show staff sent dozens of messages and spent several months debating what should be done when staff complained about bright overhead lights. 

One staff member apparently missed work because of a migraine caused by the light in August 2013 and it appears as though frustration arose because the issue had been raised for a number of weeks. 

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A general practitioner's medical report was lodged - it said lighting around the person's desk should be reduced - and management made moves to remove one or two light bulbs.

But then managers were advised a lux test needed to be done and a subsequent email from the ATO's "People" division said light above the desk in question was within the normal range.

The same email said a diffuser was needed and the ATO could no longer simply pull out the occasional light tube.

"In relation to the diffuser recommended by the provider, in the past, as you are aware, the ATO used to remove lighting tubes over desks however this has caused problems as [sic] affects the amount of light across the floor," the email said.

Emails between managers pointed to the agency's policy which suggested staff close blinds, reposition computer screens and change the brightness of their monitors.

The correspondence published after a Freedom of Information request shows the ATO was plagued with a number of lighting problems at its offices in 55 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, in the same year.

Large sections of the building went dim during the daytime and, on days with little sunshine, staff were left to work in the almost darkness. 

One manager wrote: "Obviously the system is not working as it should and this is creating a lot of angst for our staff."  

The problems happened not long after staff were moved into the new building at 55 Elizabeth Street.  

An ATO spokesperson said lighting in the agency's offices met the Australian Standards for high quality indoor office environments for office buildings.

"The ATO also ensures the design of the office area lighting is suitable for screen-based equipment and complying with AS 2713 lighting and the visual environment for screen based tasks," the spokesperson said. 

"Sometimes there may be small costs involved in adjusting individual lights."

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