The HR folks at BHP may be onto something

by Stephanie Zillman09 Jul 2012

BHP Billiton staff in WA have moved into their state-of-the-art new premises in the Perth’s CBD and the Financial Review obtained a copy of their updated work environment guidelines.

The 11-page Q&A document features an array of do’s and don’ts for the 3,000 staff relocating to the new building, and includes rules on everything from what may be consumed at desks to the size of the family pic workers can keep on permanent display.

Yet, when compared to much of the latest data on what’s annoying workers and what’s making them sick, there’s method in their madness.

A study by the University of Arizona (UA) recently found the typical worker's desk had thousands of times more bacteria than an office toilet seat – and desks, phones and keyboards were the prime habitats for the viruses that cause colds and flu. “A lot of people eat at their desks all the time so it basically turns into a bacteria cafeteria,” Dr Charles Gerba, microbiologist at UA said. He added that wiping down work areas with disinfectant wipes every day reduces bacteria significantly.

Some key aspects of the BHP policy include:

  • “While gum, throat lozenges and lollies can be consumed at desks, the privilege does not extend to chocolate, fruit, nuts and other nibble food. Please remember to demonstrate neighbourly etiquette in consideration of noise and aromas that may affect your colleagues around you.”
  • “Clear desk enables individuals, and the business as a whole, to keep information confidential, improves safety, work smarter using digital filing, enables others to use our desk when we’re not there and help our cleaners and other suppliers provide their services without interfering with our work.”
  • “Clear desk means that at the end of each day the only items remaining will be monitor(s),keyboard, mouse, mouse pad, telephone handset and headset, one A5 photo frame and ergonomic equipment (ie footstool, gel wrist pad etc).”
  • “To ensure you take a break and have the opportunity to meet colleagues from across the business, specially designed breakout areas and open hubs have been included on each Tower floor where you can eat your cold food, as well as the Level 4 Terrace and Top Deck on Level 45 for the enjoyment of hot and cold food. Only beverages can be consumed at desks.”
  • “The creation of selected eating and hot food areas encourages us to take breaks away from our desks to refresh ourselves and interact, promoting well-being. It also helps us to maintain a clean and comfortable workplace and makes sure that sounds or smells in the open plan environment don’t distract others, particularly strong odours from heated foods.”


  • by Filip 9/07/2012 4:46:02 PM

    I don't think many HR professionals would agree such restrictive practices are appropriate in a contemporary workplace. Recognition of individual difference, making the workplace an attractive and welcoming environment rarely involves archaic rules. Eating at desks is just one part of a whole gamut of rules which reflect an autocratic culture and one which cannot survive in the long term as individuals seek a healthy work life balance,

  • by Sharon Hudson 9/07/2012 6:09:36 PM

    I like it. As long as absences from the desk are not made an issue I think good practices and outcomes will result for both employee and e'er.

  • by Annemarie 9/07/2012 6:46:32 PM

    I wonder if anyone considered the impact on their external employment branding? Whilst these guidelines may work for some, there will be many others (myself included) who will be impacted to the point where they will not want to work there...and keep their god forbid 2 photos of their family on their desk.

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