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Extreme Sports - The Employment Stance

22nd Jan 2014
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At the weekend I watched a programme on Channel 4 called Don’t Look Down (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dont-look-down) where the practice of young people climbing such things as very tall cranes without safety wires, known as urban free climinbing, was featured  With graphic filming of what it is like to be 100 feet or more in the air, which made me feel physically sick as I do not like heights, clearly the people being filmed were enjoying the thrill and exhilaration.  Apparently the craze started in Russia and has now spread to the UK.  Whilst there have yet been no deaths from this bizarre sport in the UK, only time will tell whether they will remain a zero statistic.  Of course, whilst this is an extreme sport, many employees take part in other sports which can be dangerous, such as racing, skiing, rugby, horse riding, snowboarding, mountain climbing, all of which carry the risk of something going wrong.  These issues lead to the consideration of what stance employers can take if their employees partake in extreme or dangerous sports particularly with the risk of accident, disability or death.

The consequences of an employee being off due to sickness absence after taking part in an extreme or dangerous sport will be the cost to an employer.  Depending on the length of sickness absence, the employer will have to pay out SSP or occupational sick pay and possibly recruit a temporary member of staff to cover workload if the absence is to continue for several months.  To protect themselves an employer can add a caveat into an employment contract or employee handbook so that if an employee has an accident due to their leisure pursuits the employer is not liable for sick pay.  If existing terms and conditions are being changed in this manner it is important to consult and get agreement with the workforce.  A policy related to a death in service benefit may also be treated in the same manner.

Employees at risk of not being paid sick pay should they have an accident can take out personal insurance to ensure they have an income should they have an accident. 

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By SarahFMatthews
23rd Jan 2014 11:57

Encouraging staff to take care of their health and well being has to be high on any employer's agenda - particularly in the light of the obesity issues facing the nation. I do a lot of sport myself, coach triathlon, mentor businesses and have observed that individuals with the tenacity to push themselves out of their comfort zone in their spare time, and that doesn't mean extreme sports, are far more likely to push themselves outside their comfort zone in their career which if harnessed correctly can be an asset to the business.

The issue with what is regarded as high risk for some is regarded as low risk for others. I took a week off work after being knocked down on a ski slope by someone who crashed into me. I tore ligaments in my knee, had a bad bruise on my head despite a helmet and 3 cracked ribs. If I hadn't been in so much pain from the cracked ribs and unable to sit comfortably I would have gone to work. It was an accident, I was unlucky and as a good skier traversing this shallow slope was the least risky skiing I had done in the preceding 6 days.  How does that compare to someone who travels by public transport, doesn't wash their hands before eating breakfast at their desk then is off for 5 days with a cold, Norovirus or 'flu?

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By kvella1
28th Jan 2014 17:07

I'm not sure that singling out those who take part in sports or leisure activities which "can be dangerous" would be wise for an employer. Who defines which sports or leisure activities "can be dangerous"?  Who defines what a "leisure activity" is?  One of my colleagues had three weeks off work recently when he needed surgical repair of a hernia caused by lifting his child awkwardly.  Is playing with your child a "leisure activity"?   In a previous blog you encourage employers to support employees health and well being (in the face of rising obesity levels) by providing bicycle facilities and loans. I cycle for both leisure and for my commute.  Cycling "can be dangerous" as evidenced by the publicity around recent deaths in London.  Would the caveat around withholding sick pay only apply to accidents in my leisure time?  Or would it also apply to my commute (when I am MUCH more likely to be involved in accidents - I must face a near-miss at least once a fortnight!). Everything we do carries risk of something going wrong.  As Sarah says, I think we should be encouraging staff to take care of their health and well being, not penalising them for doing so.

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