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WorkCover and occupational (workplace) health and safety

WorkCover NSW is responsible for making sure that all people working in the sex industry are safe at work, and that they follow health and safety laws. WorkCover can send inspectors to a workplace to check compliance. WorkCover is also responsible for regulating workers compensation insurance.

Employer and manager responsibilities under WorkCover laws

All employers and managers must look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees, contractors, clients and visitors to the workplace. If they do not, they can face legal action under laws regulated by WorkCover.

Employers must protect the health of sex workers by:

  • providing safe sex equipment free to an employee, including storage and disposal facilities for safe sex equipment
  • providing training to workers and information to clients that promote safe sex practices
  • maintaining hygiene by changing and laundering bed linen and providing towels for staff and each client
  • ensuring the cleaning and disinfecting of equipment such as sex aids (dildos, whips etc)
  • providing for safe disposal of contaminated human waste materials (used condoms, needles, swabs).

Employers must protect the safety of workers by providing:

  • security systems, such as screening clients when they arrive and ‘panic’ buttons in rooms
  • a workplace with safe entrances and exits for workers
  • workers compensation insurance for a work-based injury or illness
  • a system for reporting serious accidents or injury at work
  • training for staff in health and safety procedures
  • injury management programs for injured workers.

Employee and contractor responsibilities under WorkCover laws

Sex industry workers must:

  • take reasonable care for the health and safety of everyone at the workplace
  • cooperate with workplace policies and procedures developed to promote health and safety.

Workers compensation for workers and contractors

Anybody who operates a business and employs workers and/or engages contractors must have a current workers compensation insurance policy from a licensed WorkCover insurer. All employers have to pay compensation to workers who are injured in the course of their work. Employers who do not have insurance may incur penalties, including a fine of up to $55,000, six months imprisonment and compensation to the injured worker.

Workers compensation insurance provides protection to workers and employers in the event of a workplace-related injury or illness. Injured employees or contractors can receive payments to cover loss of earning capacity, payment of medical expenses and, where necessary, to help them return to work. An injured worker can make a claim even if their employer does not have workers compensation insurance. But the employer then faces fines from WorkCover and the costs of compensation.

Compensation for others—public liability insurance for clients and visitors

Public liability insurance covers a business owner’s legal liability for compensation if someone who is not an employee or contractor—such as a client or visitor—suffers injury, damage to property, or death as a result of the business. 

What happens when a worker or a client is injured in the workplace

If someone contracts an illness or disease, or is injured because of their employment:

  • the worker tells their employer as soon as possible—preferably by completing a ‘Notice of Injury’ form that an employer must provide
  • the worker consults a doctor if they need medical attention, even if they do not need time off work
  • the employer sends the claim form to their workers compensation insurer within seven days
  • the insurer processes the claim within 21 days.

Employers should also have an injury management program to help injured workers continue work or return to work after injury. Employers must display a summary of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 in the workplace.

WorkCover investigations—what happens when WorkCover representatives come to your workplace

WorkCover inspectors have the right to enter any workplace in NSW. If they come to your workplace:

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

You may incur a fine if you do not help WorkCover inspectors with their investigation.

Failure to comply—what happens when a business does not comply with WorkCover regulations

If a business does not comply with WorkCover regulations, it may incur large fines and possible legal action. WorkCover staff can issue:

  • improvement notices, which require action to rectify a particular problem within a particular period of time
  • prohibition notices, which require a particular activity to stop until an immediate risk to health or safety is removed
  • penalty notices, which are on-the-spot fines, and failure to comply with penalty notices can lead to more fines and legal action by WorkCover.

These breaches may also lead to separate action by the local council.

SWOP help

SWOP can help sex services premises owners to:

  • identify potential hazards within the workplace
  • develop safer work practices and procedures
  • provide information about insurance advisors and other professionals for more advice
  • provide training and resource material.

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