Ah, the silly season, how South Africans love it. Summer holidays, no school, closed workplaces, parties, and general unwinding is the order of the day. A term originally coined by journalists to describe the time of year when newspapers filled up with fluff pieced to make up for the fact that not much else was going on – and how we long for those days – the silly season technically starts in the middle of December and stretches into the first week of January. However, the silly-season-feeling tends to start building much earlier than that, usually at the time the first Christmas trim appears in the shops, and that can be a long time in silliness terms.

Employers, managers and most likely safety officers will notice in this time that employees tend to become less vigilant, and more lax, regarding standard operating procedures and safety protocols due to behaviour that can best be described as “silly.” This leads to an increase in mishaps including accidents and injuries.

There are several reasons for this, however research show that the increased social activity during this time, along with increased stress and fatigue, leads to a decrease in risk perception. Simply put, employees become less aware of what behaviours and actions may lead to accidents or injuries. Combined with an increased likelihood of general horseplay during this time, “all in the name of fun” the risks of unsafe acts can increase dramatically.

These unsafe acts and behaviours may include:

  • Pranks
  • Practical Jokes
  • Unauthorized competitions/contests
  • Damage of company property
  • Poor vehicle operation
  • Intoxication (Year-end functions, Team Building)

Investigations into above incidents show that most were not conducted deliberately and, possibly due to a decreased risk perception, the consequences of the acts may have appeared to be harmless or slight. However, there have been cases that show that criminal prosecution could be the outcome of such incidents, meaning that employees can be help liable for any damages or injuries caused by the acts even if there was no harmful intent. Horseplay can also cause quarrelling or division among employees which in turn could lead to losses of production time and company morale.

A prudent Health & Safety plan will make provision to preventative procedures to monitor employees during the last few months of the year to maintain safety practices at work. Some possible steps to take to mitigate risks may include:

  1. Clear and continuing communication about health and safety in the workplace

Ensuring every employee is aware and reminded in a timely manner of their responsibilities with regards to health and safety in the workplace as it pertains to the Occupational Health & Safety Act (85 of 1993) as well as the Labour Relations Act.

Maintain an ongoing conversation with employees as to what behaviour is expected. Also discuss the risks associated with unsafe acts and provide additional training as may be required to mitigate any potential hazards related to year-end activities.

  1. Enforce disciplinary consequences for misconduct

Even when no ill intent was present in the actions that led to accidental damage or injuries, any non-adherence to company policies and standards must be enforced. Employees must be reprimanded as soon as an incident is identified, and they must be given guidance on what the correct behaviour and procedure is.

  1. Observe and monitor potential “class clowns”

Ensure that the health and safety team identify and monitors the more likely ringleaders of horseplay in the workplace. This will provide a measure of forewarning to possibly dangerous unsafe acts that may be prevented if immediate action is taken as required.

  1. Have fun

Team building, year-end functions and other social gatherings allow employees to destress and connect with colleagues in a healthy and safe manner. Do not shy away from such events due to the potential health and safety hazards, but rather plan properly and allow the fun and relaxation to benefit employees – and yourself!