Australian mine workers fired over ‘Harlem Shake’

Fifteen workers have been reportedly dismissed by a West Australian gold mine after performing a version of the popular “Harlem Shake” dance, highlighting the need for strict workplace safety policies – and to clamp down on them consistently.

Legal and HR experts say the incident is a prime example of how businesses need to have safety guidelines in place before these types of activities occur, and then follow through on them.

Martin Nally, the managing director of HR consultancy hranywhere, says while a supervised activity can be a lot of fun, incidents such as the dance which occurred in the mine shouldn’t be tolerated.

“Safety is not fun – that’s the point. Where someone’s life is at stake, like in a mine, you have to take safety seriously.”

The Harlem Shake craze has been quickly spreading across the internet, with groups of people performing a dance set to the same tune – the Harlem Shake. Like the planking craze before it, people are becoming more imaginative – and dangerous – with the ways in which they film these videos.

One incident in the United States is now being investigated by the Federal Aviation Authority, after a sports team performed the dance on board an airplane.

Plenty of Australians have been getting in on the craze, including this video by the owners of a costume shop in Sydney.

But the latest incident has resulted in 15 workers at the Agnew Gold Mine in Western Australia reportedly dismissed after performing the dance on the job. SmartCompany contacted the employer in question, Barminco, but did not receive a reply prior to publication.

Not only have the employees been let go, they have been banned from appearing at any Barminco site around the world.

A Facebook page has already been set up advocating for the workers to get their jobs back.

Experts say the incident is more or less clear cut. The business in question had a safety policy outlined before the incident took place, and then acted. Legal expert Peter Vitale told SmartCompany the incident highlights the importance of having these documents in place.

“Typically, on mining sites the health and safety policies are very stringent, and they’re enforced very strictly.”

The only issue which may cloud the decision is a report which claims the staff were treated more leniently for offences judged to be more serious. Vitale says while he cannot comment on the specific claim, it is true a business must not only create a safety document, but apply it consistently.

The Fair Work Commission, he says, may not look kindly on a business which doesn’t apply rules consistently.

“Inconsistent treatment of employees is certainly a factor taken into account into deciding whether or not a termination is harsh or just.”

Another issue clouding the termination is a claim employees who were only onlookers have been affected by the decision as well. But Nally says safety concerns can’t be limited to those who are only performing a breach.

“I use a saying, ‘what you accept, you approve’. If I saw someone leaning back on a chair I’d say it’s not safe, and you can’t just condone that sort of work or behavior.”

While Nally says there can be a place for this type of activity in a team-building exercise, most of the time they can incur safety breaches.

“Perhaps in a team-building exercise incorporated into a process where there are professionals and safety processes in place…but I’m 100% behind the company in this regard.”

“You just have to take safety incredibly seriously.”

This article was first published on LeadingCompany’s sister site, SmartCompany.


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