It starts with the tingle at the back of your neck – the realisation that the situation you are in doesn’t feel… safe. It escalates to a tightness in the pit of your stomach as adrenalin pumps through your blood, putting you on high alert. It’s your body’s way of making sure you are ready to fight or run.
It’s 9pm. You are in an unfamiliar suburb. It’s dark. There are no street lights. On one side of the street is a row of low rise buildings; on the other, the railway track. Your keys are at the ready. Your car is now about 50 meters away. You don’t want to unlock the car too early, or too late. You are leaving a strata meeting.
I was 19 the first time I felt unsafe as a strata manager, walking in the dark, to my car parked too far away. When I complained about the situation at work the next day, I was told that if I wanted to be treated equally to the men, I had to deal with it. But it’s not the same. We, as women know that. We live with the fear every day. However, you do not have to live with this when working, and there are obligations on all employers to ensure the safety of their staff.
Bill Kritharas, Work Place Health and Safety Partner at Sparke Helmore Lawyers, provided this advice:
‘Safety is underpinned by a risk assessment model so, in trying to discharge duty an employer needs to take reasonable steps to identify and eliminate or minimise any risks.’
In practical terms, with strata managers attending meetings in the evenings, all over Sydney, what does this mean? Bill suggested:
‘When undertaking work at a client’s premises including a residential strata plan or unit the question is, what processes should be adopted to identify the risks?
This could be done by:
- identifying whether the area has a high crime rate,
- arranging for inspections of the strata plan to assess general risks prior to attending a meeting,
- assessing the time of day, or season, of a meeting (in winter it would be dark),
- assessing whether the strata plan itself is secure, illuminated and located in a well-lit area; and
- knowing whether the strata plan has reported any difficult lot owners or tenants.
The strata management agency should develop a policy or procedure to address these issues. These could include requirements of what time of day meetings are to be held or deciding on alternative meeting locations that are not onsite.’
It is not just simply ‘part of the job’ for you to feel unsafe. If a situation doesn’t feel right, say no. Of course, this is easier said than done. We all want to make our clients happy but you do not have to do so at your risk. Don’t feel safe inspecting an apartment on your own with only a lot owner present? Don’t. Have concerns about the location of a building, its security or a certain lot owner or tenant? Tell your employer and implement a plan to eliminate the risk. No management fee is worth being afraid for your safety while at work.