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Safe Sex Workers

After legalizing prostitution in Australia, the government is putting out a workplace safety guide.

10:45 AM, Jan 28, 2002 • By ELIZABETH ROYAL
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IN AUSTRALIA, the era of big government is alive and well. WorkCover, the official workplace safety group in New South Wales, Australia, is getting ready to release a set of guidelines aimed at improving the working conditions of women (and men) involved in the sex industry. "Getting on Top of Health and Safety" is loaded with tips and advice for New South Wales's finest prostitutes and state-licensed brothels.

Under the Disorderly Houses Amendment Act of 1995, Aussie sex-selling went legal. As a response, the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)--an organization that "focuses on safety, dignity, diversity, and the changing needs of sex industry workers"--conducted a project on "Health and Workplace Safety in the Sex Industry" under the WorkCover NSW Injury Prevention, Education and Research Grants Scheme.

The program's general manager, Kate McKenzie, explains in a January 22 AP article that sex is "an industry just like any other and it's very timely that some effort goes into improving occupational health and safety standards in the industry."

But does the world's oldest profession really need tips about how to do what it, well . . . does?

According to SWOP project manager, Maria MacMahon, "A whole range of injuries can occur in the workplace, from slipping on a wet floor in bathroom settings--because most brothels have an ensuite or bathroom attached to working rooms--to things like tripping on stairs, slip hazards, a whole range of issues . . . the idea is to make sure people in the [sex] industry have the resources to do the right thing." Today, even madams and prostitutes, it seems, cannot do without the nanny state.

What makes WorkCover's mission truly unique, though, is its willingness to go beyond the old safe-sex message, advocating not condoms, but low-impact sex--sex without the carpal tunnel: "Getting on Top of Health and Safety" highly recommends brothels purchase adjustable massage tables and mattresses with proper back support, in order to protect against muscle strains and wrist injury. Dim lighting may put you in the mood, but beware: WorkCover wants you to know it may impair your ability to see.

The organization has even discovered an age-old, yet previously undefined ailment: Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS). This tragic condition apparently devastates the bodies of patients who "work in fixed or constrained postures or perform rapid repetitive tasks."

But wouldn't limits of this kind on the tastes of those in the sex industry be just another form of Victorianism? We'll leave it to Aussies to work that out.

Elizabeth Royal is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.