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Workplace safety is no joke

This case study demonstrates that not all practical jokes have a funny outcome and how injuries can present themselves in the years following the incident.

Employed by a construction company as a Contract Administrator, the worker was a victim of a practical joke gone wrong. The Industrial Commission recently held that he was entitled to claim compensation after he suffered hearing loss as a result of a workplace prank.

In 2008, a co-worker clapped their hands around the worker's ears, after returning from the bathroom with wet hands. The co-worker was a known prankster, who had participated in jokes and mischief on a number of occasions.

At the time of the incident, the Contract Administrator was shocked at their co-worker's behaviour. Following the incident, he began to feel vibrations in his ears.

Janine Reid, Regional Manager, Customer Services says while we all enjoy having some fun with our colleagues, it is important to realise that some actions, which may seem like fun at first, can have negative  consequences.

“Often, a seemingly innocent prank can have negative consequences, sometimes resulting in a workers' compensation claim,” Janine said.

The employee mentioned the issue to their doctor soon after the joke. However it wasn't until two years later he sought medical attention from his doctor as he was experiencing ringing in his ears, which was driving him 'crazy'.

An impact from a prank or workplace accident may not occur right away so it's important incidents are reported and adequately documented at the time they occurred.

“Workers need to be aware of developing symptoms from workplace accidents. Often, they do not begin to develop until much later down the track,” Janine added.

Although the worker knew his colleague's actions were intended to be playful, the resulting injuries were nothing to laugh at.

The worker was left with tinnitus and hearing loss, a permanent reminder of an office prank.

“It's not about taking away fun, it's about rethinking actions and caring for your colleagues. Aiming for zero harm at work is everyone's responsibility, and it's integral that employers and workers alike work together to minimise risks and prevent workplace injuries so everyone can leave work in the same state they arrived; safe and well.

“If there is a prankster working with you, it might be a good idea to remind them that some jokes aren't appropriate for the workplace,” Janine said.

If a colleague is injured from a practical joke, the joke may backfire with the resulting situation being no laughing matter.

*Names were removed (for more information, refer to Citation: Bradley Applin and Q-COMP (WC/2011/293)). Published 21 June, 2012.