Managing risk

Should you allow pets at work?

Pets at work can increase morale, but what factors should you consider before giving the green light?

30 August 2023

One trend is becoming more common in workplaces across Australia: bringing pets to work.

There’s a good reason for this, as studies have shown that having our furry friends around can have a positive influence on the workplace atmosphere and decrease stress.

However, there’s lots to consider if you’re considering allowing your business to go down this route.

“Pets can have a positive impact on workplace health and productivity; however, they will not be suitable for every business,” a spokesperson for SafeWork NSW said.

“SafeWork NSW advises businesses to take time to discuss the proposal in detail, consulting with management and workers on the potential WHS hazards and how they will be controlled.”

In particular, SafeWork says that pets should be introduced with caution or where vulnerable people are present.

Keeping the office safe

Even if your workplace is reasonably suitable for pets – for example, there’s no heavy machinery operation – there are still plenty of considerations before you give the go-ahead. According to this study, nearly two-thirds of workplaces that allow pets don’t have any guidelines or policies in place.

SafeWork says there are several factors to reflect on from a WHS perspective before diving in.

Firstly, about one in five people have a cat or dog allergy, and one in 20 has a serious phobia, so checking with staff beforehand is important.

Training is important for both the pets themselves and for staff, Safework says, as is thinking about how to manage hostile pets and respond in the event there are any incidents.

Also essential is to consider cleaning processes. In this survey conducted by a cleaning company, 77% of people said that they thought dogs were unhygienic in the office. So clean regularly and consider whether there might be any areas where pets are not allowed, such as the kitchen area or on surfaces like tables.

What about the pets?

Meanwhile, there are also considerations for ensuring the welfare of the pets as they’re taken outside their normal homes and into a new environment. The welfare of pets can cause issues, such as this recent case, where a worker won an unfair dismissal case after being dismissed for running over his boss’ pet bird.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said there were several ways employers can ensure that pets remain safe.

“Ensure that all office exits are inaccessible to pets: this will ensure that people’s pets don’t accidentally wander off,” the spokesperson said.

“Additionally, cables, power points, and bins can be hazardous to pets: these items need to be secured and safely kept out of animals’ reach.”

The spokesperson added that employers should also encourage their staff to prepare themselves and their pets for a visit to an office environment.

Taking plenty of walks and outside toilet breaks is also advised, and pet owners should be responsible for bringing in things like food, water bowls and pet beds to make the experience more comfortable.

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My Business Workplace has policies and documents to assist with WHS issues, including:

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