Mitigate silly-season risks: your essential 15-point checklist

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Christmas parties gone wrong can easily cost employers millions in WH&S claims – here’s how to avoid paying out a cent and still have a rocking end-of-year bash.

According to law firm Sparke Helmore, litigation can be avoided by ensuring that alcohol is ‘served responsibly’, namely by complying with all workplace health and safety legislation, and ultimately not putting the health, safety or welfare of employees (or others at an employer’s place of work) at risk:


“Responsible service implies that, for example, employees have been advised to be careful and responsible about their consumption of alcohol, to respect others when they have consumed alcohol, [and] may include some supervision or monitoring of consumption at the conclusion of the event.”

Notably, whether it is an event at an employer’s premises, at a venue, or at an employee’s own premises, if employees are required or encouraged to be present, the employers’ obligations under the work, health and safety legislation remain the same. Roland Hassall, senior workplace consultant at Sparke Helmore lawyers, advised the following guidelines for responsible service of alcohol:


  • Ensure the bar tab is proportionate to the number of people at the event;
  • limit high content alcoholic drinks;
  • do not permit ‘shots’ or ‘double’ drinks;
  • have designated managers responsible for the event ensure appropriate workplace; behaviour at the event and ensure arrangements have been made for the conclusion of the event;
  • undertake careful communication about when the event ceases and what transport facilities; will be make available, if appropriate;
  • do not put on an unlimited tab; and
  • make employees aware that if they choose to go to another venue or carry on in evening that the firm’s involvement and responsibility ceases at the end of the event.

Whether your organisation is managing the function yourself, or using an external organisation, there are many hidden risks and potential pitfalls that can occur and now is the time to check your plans against the guidelines from the Australian Drug Foundation.

The following is a simple checklist to start the planning process to ensure you:


  • meet duty-of-care and health and safety obligations;
  • reduce potential employer liability;
  • minimise the risk of intoxication and alcohol-related harms at events;
  • enhance general safety for all attendees, staff, clients and guests.




  • Do you have an early intervention strategy to prevent incidents from occurring?
  • Do you have an appointed person responsible for the function who really understands their role?
  • How are you proposing to control the ‘flow’ of alcohol to the guests?
  • Are you considering serving alcohol during speeches/formalities?
  • What are your plans to have guests vacate the venue on time and leave without incident?
  • Are you eliminating any activities that may promote ‘rapid consumption’ of alcohol?
  • How is food being managed to help prevent intoxication?
  • Do all attendees know who is in charge of the event?
  • Do you have the appropriate number of security guards on duty throughout the function and have been briefed regarding your requirements?
  • What is your safe transport approach for any person evicted from the venue?
  • Does the entertainment appropriately cover the diversity of the guests?
  • Have you circulated your organisation’s code of conduct prior to the function?
  • When advertising the event to your staff, have you ensured you are not emphasising alcohol & consumption?
  • Have you considered independent (silent) monitoring of your function?
  • Do you have a debriefing process in-place for this function?

  • Roderick van Gelder on 30/11/2012 5:03:26 PM

    The list is a good starting point but only scratches the service when it comes to events.
    For starters, the venue. Have you hired a venue or is the party in the office? If in the office and you also invite partners and maybe clients, does the number of toilets and egress meet the occupancy requirements? Nothing dampens a party than a queue outside the toilets. And if the Christmas lights catch fire and you don't have an emergency plan that covers the increased occupancy it can have far reaching consequences for the company.
    But even if you hire a venue, check their occupancy permit meets your requirements. It is not unusual that smaller venues (bars, restaurants, etc.) want to cash in on the silly season and stretch their capacity a bit.
    Food preparation and service. Is it DIY catering or do you have a caterer? If DIY, how sure are you that strict hygiene rules have been applied in the preparation. Having numerous people complain about food poisoning the next day, certainly if they are clients, can be very costly in the long run. Has the wait staff been briefed on the ingredients? With an increase of people with allergies you have to know the right answer if someone asks if there are peanuts used in the canape preparation (see hygiene above). And if you use a caterer, have you checked their credentials, insurances and permits? The company that serves sandwiches during lunchtime may not necessarily be equipped or experienced in hot canapes.
    And then there is the entertainment, lighting and audio, stage, etc. etc. If your party is for more than 50 staff and involves clients, get a professional company to manage it for you. The investment will be marginal if your reputation is on the line.

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