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NSW Health

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NSW Health

NSW Health staff promote safe health practices for all sex workers, staff and clients in sex services premises in NSW, including businesses with and without council approval. Their primary role is promoting healthy and safe work practices and standards for the sex industry. A secondary role is the monitoring and investigation of public health complaints involving sex services premises and sex workers.

Different types of NSW Health services

NSW Health offers several services.

Community Health Centres: provide a wide range of health education and counselling services to the general community.

Sexual Health Centres: provide a wide range of sexual health services to the general community, and many run free, confidential clinics for sex workers. Sexual health workers may join SWOP outreach workers on visits to the sex industry.

Public Health Units: promote public health and deal with public health complaints involving sex workers and sex industry businesses.

Responsibilities of employers and self-employed people

Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees and any other person at the workplace, including clients and visitors. To do this they must:

  • enable workers to contribute to making decisions that affect their health, safety and welfare needs
  • provide and maintain equipment and systems of work that are safe and without risk to health
  • make arrangements for the safe use and handling of equipment and substances
  • provide the information and supervision needed to ensure the health and safety of all employees
  • maintain places of work in a safe condition with safe entrances and exits
  • make available adequate information on the potential risks of substances—such as cleansers or lubricants—used in the workplace.

Responsibilities of workers

Workers must cooperate with employers in meeting their occupational health and safety obligations. So if an employer provides work equipment or systems of work designed to protect employees and others in the workplace, then employees must use them. For example, employees should follow procedures on how to clean sex aids or dispose of tissues and condoms. Employees must also take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others at work.

For more information:

  • See the booklet and DVD Getting on Top of Health and Safety in the NSW Sex Industry, which is available from the SWOP office.
  • WorkCover also has a resource called Health and Safety Guidelines for Brothels, which you can find here

What happens when NSW Health receives a complaint about a sex worker or a brothel

Anyone—including sex workers, owners, clients and the general public—can make a complaint to NSW Health about the work practices of sex industry businesses and/or sex workers.

NSW Health staff try to solve any problems by talking to the owner or workers first and identifying solutions (including training and safe practices) that do not involve penalties. NSW Health staff assess complaints and may decide to investigate health matters further, or refer the matter to another authority such as the local council or WorkCover.

If they receive a complaint, NSW Health staff focus on the practices of the worker or the owner. These are the sorts of questions the department might ask:

  • Has there been promotion and education of workers and clients about safe sex practices and sexual health?
  • Is there a supply of free safe sex equipment and the correct cleaning and disinfecting of work tools?
  • Is there provision and safe storage of clean linen and towels?
  • Is there safe disposal of waste materials such as used condoms and needles?
  • Is there a worker who has sexually transmissible infections and who has sex with clients without their informed consent? (An owner of a sex industry business can also legally be held accountable if this is the case.)

The good news is that NSW Health staff try to solve any problems by talking to the owner and workers first and by identifying solutions—including training and safe practices. They do not just impose penalties.

NSW Health investigations—what happens when NSW Health staff come to a sex services premises

NSW Health Inspectors may come to your workplace without notice (warning) but they have no authority to arrest you. If they come to your workplace:

  • stay calm
  • exercise your rights—remember sex work is legal
  • ask for photo identification
  • ask them why they are there and what they are investigating—they must tell you unless doing so will compromise their investigation.

What happens when someone does not comply with NSW Health regulations and orders

As a sex worker, if you do not comply with health regulations, you can incur large fines, possible legal action as well as separate action by WorkCover and the local council.

It is an offence for anyone with a sexually transmissible infection—whether a sex worker or a client - to have sexual intercourse with another person without first informing them about the risk of infection and without the other person accepting the risk.

NSW Health staff have the power to issue a Public Health Order against anyone who has a sexually transmissible infection (including HIV and STIs) and is behaving in a way that may endanger others’ health.

The Public Health Order can:

  • order you to refrain from specific conduct (for example, stop working)
  • order you to undergo treatment (such as counselling to change your behaviour and HIV tests without your consent) or
  • in rare cases where there is evidence that the risky behaviour has not stopped, detain you or greatly restrict your movements.

A sex business owner can also be fined if they know a sex worker has a sexually transmissible condition and allows the worker to work without letting clients know of the condition, and without obtaining the client’s consent to the risk of transmission before sex takes place.

SWOP help

SWOP can:

  • help workers and owners to develop and implement safe work practices
  • discuss strategies for negotiating with NSW Health
  • provide training and resources for workers and management in safe practices.

For more information: