Owners and managers of commercial sex services premises, such as brothels, massage parlours, bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) houses, and escort agencies have certain duties with regard to workers, sub-contractors, customers, suppliers and others in the workplace.
If you have sex workers on your premises, regardless of their working arrangements, you have duties under the work health and safety legislation to ensure the workplace and working conditions do not expose them to risks to their health and safety. Obligations under the workers compensation legislation may apply.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 set requirements for health and safety at work and cover every place of work in NSW, including sexual services premises (SSP).
Working conditions must be in accordance with NSW industrial relations laws and you must consider the hours and days worked (including reasonable length shifts), breaks between shifts and leave provisions.
You must not coerce anyone to work as a sex worker, or request a sex worker to provide services that are outside their personal boundaries. You must also not prevent, or attempt to prevent, sex workers from using personal protective equipment, such as condoms.
As an owner or manager of any premises providing sexual services, you must also be aware of your duties required by the Public Health Act 2010.
To ensure compliance with work health and safety, workers compensation and public health laws you must provide reasonable access to authorised representatives from:
You should also provide reasonable access to authorised representatives of such services as the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).
You have the right to request identification from anyone who presents themselves as an authorised representative of the above organisations prior to them entering your premises.
Representatives from the following regulators have the legislative powers to enter and inspect your premises to ensure it meets relevant requirements or in response to a complaint:
Council officers can conduct periodic inspections. If requested by the owner or occupier, the council officer must produce written permission from the council to enter the workplace. The permission must include the:
The status of a person for tax purposes bears no direct relationship to that person’s status as a worker for workers compensation purposes.
According to previous legal cases involving NSW workers compensation matters, sex workers are ‘deemed workers’ of the SSP at which they are performing work (see part 16 for information).
The Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 defines a worker as a person who has entered into, or works under a contract of service or training with an employer (whether by way of manual labour, clerical work or otherwise, whether the contract is expressed or implied, and whether the contract is oral or in writing).
You must take out a workers compensation policy to cover all workers (including ‘deemed workers’).
Penalties apply for employers who do not hold a workers compensation policy or who under declare wages paid to workers.
To determine the status of a worker, contact the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) on 13 10 50 or lodge a private ruling application.
Work health and safety laws require you to consult with your workers so they can contribute to all decisions affecting their health, safety and welfare at work. Encourage workers to set up a work health and safety committee where possible.
Workers or others in the workplace have the right to speak up about any WHS issues they’re concerned about and refuse to do something if its unsafe without any ramifications, like losing their job or shifts being decreased.
Effective control of workplace risks starts with recognising potential sources of injury or illness.
Risk management requires you to identify work areas and activities that may put workers and others at risk and then decide how to eliminate or control those risks. To control the risks, follow the hierarchy of controls contained in the Code of practice: How to manage work health and safety risks. Use higher level controls first. Only use administrative controls and PPE to supplement the higher controls you’ve implemented.
A combination of controls can be used. For example, you could eliminate hazards with well-designed work premises, work processes and automated equipment.
You could also use engineering controls, such as ergonomic equipment. These higher controls may also be supported by administrative controls, which are safe systems of work (including safe work procedures, information and training, and supervision) to manage any remaining risks. Where possible, don’t use sharps, needles, glass or metal. If they are used, ensure that safety protocols are in place to ensure they are used safely.
You must ensure your workplace meets the required standards of local and state fire laws. Following an initial fire safety assessment, you should regularly inspect and maintain your workplace.
There are specific laws about what you must provide in your workplace. Ensure suitable systems are in place for sex workers who work alone or remotely, such as physical barriers, duress alarms, electronic surveillance and appropriate communication protocols.
Good sexual health is important to sex workers because their livelihood – and your business – depend on it.
It is highly recommended that sex workers and other personnel are immunised against hepatitis B and (in some cases) hepatitis A, following consultation with their medical practitioner or local sexual health service.
To prevent possible transmission of STIs and other infections, you must provide necessary PPE (chapter 7) and appropriate information to your worker, including how to do visual health checks of clients, as well as information to monitor their own sexual health.
Conducting visual health checks of clients is essential, however it is important to note that over half of all STIs are asymptomatic (without symptoms) so sex workers and SSP owners and managers should understand visual checks are precautionary only – they are not a definitive diagnosis. Any client who displays signs of a possible STI should be immediately referred for medical consultation at a sexual health clinic or private general practitioner. The sex worker may, if they wish, offer an alternate service, such as hand relief using suitable PPE.
Sufficient condoms (in a range of sizes) and adequate lubricant should always be provided and used for insertive sexual services. Providing unprotected sexual services greatly increases the risks of contracting a STI. If a client requests that a worker does not use a condom, the worker has the right to refuse to engage in any sexual practice. Read more about your rights at work.
For sex workers, good sexual health is maintained by regularly visiting a doctor, health care centre or public sexual health clinic of their choice for sexual health assessment appropriate to their individual needs. It can include medical tests, counselling and education. A sexual health assessment is not an alternative to practising safe sex – nor does it mean immunity from an STI.
The frequency of sexual health assessments should be determined by the individual sex worker and their doctor.
NSW Sexual Health InfoLink (SHIL) provides free, anonymous, confidential and non-judgemental sexual health services and information for the NSW general public. Some public sexual health clinics have dedicated clinics for sex workers, as well as dedicated clinics with translation services for sex workers from non-English speaking backgrounds.
A sex worker is under no obligation to share their sexual health assessment records with anyone else, including SSP owners and managers. However, owners and operators may request the sex worker to provide a ‘certificate of attendance’ for the assessment.
A ‘certificate of attendance’ is issued by the treating doctor (in the name the sex worker provides to them) stating the date of attendance– it does not detail the results of the individual’s sexual health assessment, any diagnosis or medical information. The certificate is also the property of the individual sex worker so, if one is provided to management, it must be kept in a locked storage facility and must not be shown to clients or displayed anywhere in the premises.
Staff, clients, visitors and others must cooperate to meet their work health and safety obligations. They must use the equipment, systems of work and PPE provided, and must also take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others in the workplace. A person who knows that he or she has a notifiable disease, or a scheduled medical condition, that is sexually transmissible is required to take reasonable precautions against spreading the disease or condition.
Reasonable access should be provided to staff from SWOP, sexual health services and other relevant health services. Sex workers and owners and managers of sex services premises in NSW must also be aware of their duties under the Public Health Act 2010.
Together with your workers, you must develop and implement safe work procedures to manage any foreseeable risks to someone’s health and safety. Safe procedures should include (but are not limited to):
Hand washing facilities should be available in work areas, eating areas and in the toilets. They should be separate from troughs or sinks used in connection with any sex work activities, and should have hot and cold water and liquid soap. There should also be paper towels (or air-dryers) and waste containers.
Workers should wash their hands before and after servicing every client, and after disposing of used PPE and other items.
Any cuts, abrasions or rashes should be covered with waterproof dressings and, if necessary, suitable gloves.
There are specific laws about using appropriate PPE in the workplace.
You must provide enough PPE for use by workers - free of charge (eg condoms, dams, gloves, water-based lubricants). Ensure PPE is properly maintained and easily accessible. Make sure workers know how to safely use and dispose of PPE.
PPE must be provided to workers, in reasonable quantities and a range of sizes and type, for example latex and non-latex, that comply with appropriate Australian Standards. PPE should also be stored where they are easily accessible to sex workers. Make sure workers know how to safely use and dispose of used PPE.
To prevent premature deterioration, store condoms and dams away from moisture, light and heat in a secure, tamper-proof location not accessible to clients.
Workers should be instructed to always clean, disinfect and cover all sex toys with a new condom between clients. Condoms on sex toys must be changed when the toy is used on a different person and/or a different orifice. Sex toys should be thoroughly cleaned after each job.
Make sure workers check disposable PPE before using it, to ensure it has not passed its use-by date and the package is not damaged.
Keep your premises clean at all times.
If you use hazardous chemicals for cleaning, ensure you manage the risks.
Regularly clean and disinfect showers, baths, toilets and other wet areas. When cleaning, suitable PPE must be worn - including waterproof gloves, plastic aprons and overshoes.
All non-disposable items and equipment that come into contact with body substances, for example beds, sex aids and bondage equipment, must be thoroughly cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Re-usable sex items must be regularly inspected, properly cleaned, disinfected, maintained and stored hygienically.
Blood and body substance spills must be cleaned up immediately and all waste products must be treated as if they are contaminated.
Paper towels should be used to clean small spills, then warm water, detergent and a standard disinfectant. Special care should be taken, such as wearing gloves, when cleaning up spills which contain body fluids to avoid transmission of bacteria and viruses.
For larger spills (the width of your hand), a spill kit that contains plastic bags should be used, sachets of granular disinfectant (to absorb the spill and minimise aerosols), PPE, and a scraper and pan. All disposable items in the spill kit should be replaced immediately after each use of the kit.
If possible, don’t use carpets, curtains and soft furnishings in an area where blood or body- substance spills could occur. In some premises, such as home-care settings, this is obviously not practical, so contaminated furnishings should be professionally cleaned and laundered – or replaced. Washable chair covers are an option.
Sharp objects, including injecting equipment, may pose a risk for the transmission of blood-borne viruses.
If sharp objects are used within the premises, where practicable, make sure only disposable, single-use items are used.
If re-useable sharps are used, the Public Health Regulation 2012 states they must be sterilised at the premises or off-site, using a bench top autoclave maintained in accordance with AS 2182: Sterilisers steam benchtop. The AS outlines requirements for sharps sterilisation record keeping and skin penetration procedures. N.B. Any SSP that conducts skin penetration procedures must notify their local council. Refer to the NSW Health factsheet, How to sterilise your instruments and comply with the Public Health Regulation 2012.
Sharps disposal bins should be placed in all premises providing sexual services, including in workrooms where sharp objects are used and in the toilets, with no penalties for using them.
All sharps containers must comply with AS 4031: Non-reusable containers for the collection of sharp medical items used in health care, for the disposal of sharps, including injecting equipment.
It is not appropriate to dispose of sharps as domestic waste. NSW Health community sharps management can help you find a sharps disposal outlet nearby.
Every workplace, from one to two person operations up to much larger businesses, must provide first aid facilities. It is the employer’s legal responsibility to provide and maintain all first aid equipment.
Having someone on site with knowledge to administer first aid in the event of an accident or medical emergency can save a life or avert serious health complications. Employers should consider providing first aid training for staff.
Signs indicating the location of the nearest first aid kit and identifying who is trained in administering first aid should be displayed on each floor.
Give pregnant women as much protection as possible. Develop a risk management approach in consultation with the worker that excuses them from certain duties, such as heavy lifting, and having to work the ordinary minimum number of hours per shift.
Manual tasks cover a wide range of activities including massaging a client, and using bondage and discipline equipment. Some manual tasks are hazardous and may cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). These are the most common workplace injuries across Australia.
Injuries can occur when a task requires a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold, or restrain any person or thing involving one or more of the following:
These factors directly stress the body and can lead to an injury.
Consult with your workers about the risks of each task they do, including sex activities. These will be the things that you may be able to change to eliminate or reduce the risk of MSD.
You can minimise the risk of MSD by ensuring:
For more information, refer to the Code of practice: hazardous manual tasks.
Safe work procedures should also be developed for:
It is strongly recommended that when establishing a ‘no drugs, alcohol and smoking’ policy, to contact your local sex worker organisation for information on implementing effective harm reduction measures around drugs and alcohol.
The Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 bans smoking in all enclosed or substantially enclosed public places, and in a number of outdoor places, including within four metres of the pedestrian access point to buildings and commercial dining areas. Bans are enforced by NSW Health authorised inspectors, who can issue on-the-spot fines. Breathing second-hand tobacco smoke can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and other lung diseases and it can also worsen the effects of other illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.
The Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 defines a ‘public place’ as a place or vehicle that the public is entitled to use or that is open to the public (whether on payment of money, by virtue of membership of a club or other body, or otherwise). This means SSP such as brothels, BDSM houses and other places where the public visits would be considered public places.
The ‘no drugs, alcohol and smoking’ policy should be developed in consultation with workers and should outline:
All staff should be informed of the policy through meetings, memos and notice boards and you should post suitable ‘no smoking’ signs throughout the premises.
More information and free signage is available from NSW Health.
Violence includes verbal and emotional threats, sexual harassment, stalking, physical attacks, and property damage. It can involve clients, co-workers or managers.
Employers, owners and managers are responsible for managing potentially abusive, violent or intimidating situations in their workplaces whatever the source. To minimise the risk of violence, ask your workers which clients, work areas, activities and situations might contribute to the likelihood of violence – then develop strategies to control the risks. Security systems, such as easily accessible panic buttons and client screening are strategies to consider.
Refer to our violence in the workplace page for more information. SWOP can provide advice on any contact you or the worker may consider having with police.
You should provide clean bed linen, clean bed covers and clean towels for the use of clients and staff.
Ensure linen and towels are washed immediately after they are used. Wash in hot water using laundry detergent and dry thoroughly. Once clean, ensure they are stored in a separate location to the used laundry.
See AS/NZS 4146:2000 – Laundry practice for more information.
You must develop safe work procedures for collecting, storing and disposing of waste that contains blood and/or body substances.
Used condoms, dams, gloves, soiled tissues, paper towels and the like are not classified as ‘contaminated waste’ and can be collected in a lined bin with a lid and disposed of as ordinary household/office waste.
Swimming pools and spas in premises providing sexual services must comply with the Public Health Act 2010 and Public Health Regulation 2012. Read NSW Health's Public Swimming Pool and Spa Pool Advisory Document and fact sheets.
Pools and spas should be regularly inspected, repaired and maintained. When poorly maintained, they can cause infection.
Only use plastic drinking cups in pools and spas.
Swimming pools and spas must be registered with the local council and council officers may undertake routine inspections, including taking water samples. Don’t allow anyone to use a pool or spa unless the water is disinfected.
Local councils and public health unit officers can prohibit the use of the pool if it is a risk to public health and can issue improvement and penalty notices (fines).
All bars and food preparation areas, where food is for sale, provided by the employer and/or offered to clients or staff whether or not payment is required (does not include staff dining area), must comply with the NSW Food Act 2003 and the NSW Food Regulation 2015.
They must be regularly cleaned, inspected and maintained.
The potential to contaminate food, and hence cause illness, is always present in any area where food is prepared or stored. The following precautions will minimise any risks associated with food-borne illness:
You must give information and training to your workers and clients that is current, accurate and easy to understand, including information and training about work health and safety, safe sex, sexually transmissible infections (STIs), blood-borne viruses, and first aid. SWOP can assist with information resources.
Training should include:
If your workers have difficulty communicating in English, make sure they are given information in a language they understand. The SWOP and Scarlet Alliance websites provide information in simplified Chinese, Korean and Thai languages.
Read instruction and training for more information.
You must notify us of serious incidents, illnesses or dangerous occurrences involving workers or others that occur as a result of the business undertaking.
This includes notifying us (and NSW Health) of high-risk exposure incidents involving contact with blood or body substances. Read When to notify blood, body substance and needlestick exposure incidents for details about specific high-risk exposure incidents that must be notified.
The State Insurance Regulatory Auhtority (SIRA) regulates workers compensation and injury management in NSW under the Workers Compensation Act 1987 and the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998.
Proprietors cannot rely on the taxation status of sex workers for workers compensation purposes.
Even though sex workers may be considered to be operating an independent business for tax purposes, for workers compensation purposes sex workers can be deemed to be an employee of the person or business who operates the premises.
A number of court cases have found sex workers to be eligible for workers compensation benefits even though:
These decisions require proprietors to pay workers compensation premiums for sex workers and allow sex workers to claim entitlements to workers compensation benefits if other criteria applicable to all workers are met.
If a sex worker is injured in a work-related incident and a policy is not in place, the sex worker will still be entitled to benefits and the proprietor may be personally liable for any costs associated with a claim and other penalties.
Sex workers can claim workers compensation payments if their work is a substantial contributing factor to the injury or illness by demonstrating that the required employment relationship exists and that the injury or illness happened as a result of their work.
The 1987 Act and 1998 Act place a number of obligations on employers or proprietors with regards workers compensation.
Get a workers compensation insurance policy covering all workers, including sex workers, receptionists, working directors, cleaners and security. If you don't get a policy you can be penalised.
Employers are required to keep accurate records of all wages paid to workers (including payments to deemed workers and contractors) for at least five years. There may be circumstances where records need to be kept longer.
At the end of a policy period, employers must provide their insurer with a declaration of the wages paid during that period for premium calculation purposes.
The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) and workers compensation insurers have a legal right to audit an employer’s records to make sure employers are paying the appropriate premium.
For more information on your record keeping obligations and what payments are included as wages contact your insurer
You must maintain a register of injuries to record workplace injuries or illnesses sustained by workers regardless of whether there has been a claim.
This register must be a written report of any accidents or dangerous incidents occurring in the workplace. It will assist employers to identity situations or conditions to be addressed to prevent further accidents or threats to health and safety.
If requested by a worker, a deemed worker or their legal representatives, a proprietor must provide the business’s registered business name and the name and address of their workers compensation insurance company.
You may display the ‘if you get injured at work’ poster in a noticeable place, in languages relevant to your workers. You can also choose to provide the same information contained in the poster by other means. However, you must make this information available in some form to workers at all times.
Once you become aware of a workplace injury, you must notify your insurer within 48 hours. All injuries where workers compensation is or may be payable are notifiable to your insurer.
The Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 details the need for work injuries to be managed at the workplace. The roles and responsibilities of employers, workers and insurance companies strengthen this approach.
Both employers and workers must ensure they meet their obligations for suitable work, as required by the 1998 Act.
A return to work (RTW) program is comprised of a formal policy and supporting procedures that an organisation must have in place to help injured workers with their recovery and return to the workplace.
All large employers with a base tariff premium of more than $50,000 must develop a RTW program in consultation with their workforce and ensure it aligns with their insurer’s injury management program.
Small employers can develop a program using the standard return to work program. Read about RTW programs and how to develop one.
You must display details of the return to work program or notify workers of its content.
Employers are required to provide suitable work to enable an injured worker to recover at work.
Suitable work (also known as suitable duties, modified duties or light duties) needs to be provided when a worker is unable to immediately return to their normal duties after an injury.
You must give your injured workers suitable work that is based on current medical advice, and within the worker’s capabilities, to enable them to recover at work. In addition, these workers may need to work for shorter periods during their first few weeks back on the job. Depending on the ill or injured worker’s capabilities, a phased return to work may need to be arranged.
You must tell your insurance company if suitable work is not available.
An injured worker with current work capacity has an obligation to cooperate with their employer and the insurer to make reasonable efforts to return to suitable work.
If an injury prevents a worker from doing their normal job for seven or more days, the worker must nominate a treating doctor who is prepared to cooperate and communicate with the employer and the insurance company to develop an injury management plan.
If a worker refuses a reasonable offer of suitable work, workers compensation payments may be suspended or reduced.
Workers should contact the insurer if their employer is unable to offer suitable work. The insurer should work with both the employer and worker to identify an appropriate strategy to help the worker return to some type of suitable work. Call 13 10 50 for more information.
The insurer must develop an injury management plan that outlines how workers will be assisted to return to work as soon as possible after a workplace injury or illness.
The insurer must also develop, in consultation with you, an injury management plan that should include a return to work/recovery at work strategy for any injured worker who has sustained a significant injury or illness. The plan should include any suitable work that may be available to the worker.
The insurer is also required to provide you information, assistance and advice to assist in the worker’s return to work.
To find an insurer visit SIRA. For more advice and assistance about workers compensation or injury management, call 13 10 50 or contact the insurer.
Sexual Health InfoLink (SHIL)
Call 1800 451 624 (weekdays 9am-5.30pm) or visit www.shil.nsw.gov.au
NSW Sexual Health Clinics
Call SHIL or visit www.health.nsw.gov.au and search ‘sexual health clinics’.
Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS)
Call 02 9361 8000 (Sydney metro) or 1800 422 599 (outside Sydney metro and interstate) (24 hours, 7 days a week) or visit www.yourroom.com.au
Public Health Units
Call 1300 066 055
Call 1800 022 222 (24 hours) or visit www.healthdirect.gov.au
Call 1800 622 902 or visit www.swop.org.au
Call 02 9517 2577 or visit www.scarletalliance.org.au/
Call 0424 591 409 or email email@example.com
Call 131 450 (24-hour service) or visit www.tisnational.gov.au