National

Public service's secret Christmas files

Public service departments are compiling confidential "risk profile" files on the likely activities of their workers at office Christmas parties.

Several departments have confirmed the risk profiles had been undertaken in the lead-up to the Christmas party season but none agreed to disclose their contents.

Boozy office parties have emerged as a danger-zone in the service, a key driver of bullying and or harassment accusations, inappropriate sexual behaviour and drunken injuries.

Now departments are putting their preparations on a more stable footing, assigning teams of public servants to prepare  detailed risk profiles on what is likely to go wrong when the departments' bureaucrats get together and let their hair down – and how the dangers can be mitigated.

The Immigration, Environment and Finance Departments all confirmed that they had undertaken risk profiles on their upcoming Christmas knees-ups although they would not divulge the contents of the files or answer questions about them.

Treasury said it did not undertake a formal risk profile process, but like in many modern workplaces its public servants were put on notice about appropriate conduct at Christmas parties.

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"The Treasury has a Social Functions Policy that provides staff with information about their responsibilities in relation to the Australian Public Service Values, the Code of Conduct and relevant Work Health and Safety legislation," a spokesman said.

"There is no department-wide risk profile for Christmas events."

The Department of the Environment said its risk assessment was aimed at making sure its workers had a safe workplace, even when festivities were in full swing.

"The department assesses risk around all events involving our staff to ensure that we provide a safe working environment for staff and to manage and mitigate any related risks," a spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Finance confirmed that her department had undertaken a risk assessment and was taking Christmas seriously, but not that seriously.

"The Department of Finance undertakes comprehensive risk assessments in line with its obligations under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability legislation and the Work Health and Safety Act," she said.

"This Christmas, Finance does not foresee any risks from icy conditions, melted snow, sleigh incidents or turkey-related mishaps and, furthermore, as Finance has no chimneys, fireplaces nor naked flames we are comfortable that Santa, his elves and Finance staff can celebrate Christmas safely.

"In the event any Finance staff have an encounter with Santa, he will be appropriately informed of his work health and safety responsibilities."

The public service's Merit Protection Commissioner, Annwyn Godwin, declined to be interviewed on the dangers of Christmas parties, but said she was all for departments trying to minimise the risk posed by Christmas parties.

"It is not uncommon for agencies to remind staff about appropriate behaviour at Christmas functions and to remind them of their responsibilities under the APS Values and Code of Conduct and work health and safety legislation. 

"Agencies are advised to take reasonable, practical steps to ensure that these functions occur without incident."

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