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A Weird Old Rule Is Stopping People Getting Standing Desks At Parliament

"It's not like we're asking for Feng Shui, our offices don't comply with workplace safety regulations."

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull may have a standing desk in his office, but archaic parliamentary rules are preventing Parliament House staff members with medical conditions from getting access to the same adjustable height desks.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

Staff working in parliament house are at war with parliamentary services, which is forcing people with medical conditions to wait months before providing them with a standing desk.

It took one staff member with a chronic pain condition who can't work sitting down just under seven months to get an adjustable desk.

Another Senate staff member told BuzzFeed News they put in a request over a year ago, but has gotten nowhere.

As well as a doctor's note, staff are required to get an assessment by the Department of Finance's ergonomics devision, Konekt.

But that process appears to be stalled for offices in the Senate because of an odd rule regarding Parliament House's architecture. The design of certain parts of the building are controlled by a group of people who represent the original architects of the building. They approve what offices look like, and the decor that's in them.

One Labor politician's office located on the outside corridor of the building was told by Senate services the only way they would be allowed to get a standing desk is if it was custom made to match the other furniture because you can see into the office from the outside of the building.

One staffer scoffed "I understand it has to be part of the style guide and all that bullshit, but the pilot program has been going for three years. Come on."

Three years ago a trial to re-fit offices with sit-standing desks was started on the House of Representatives side of the building, but has not made its way to the Senate.

.@Tony_Burke has a standing desk. Of course he does #KillingSeason

"The Senate sits far longer than the House and they started the trial over there, with no word on when it will come to Senate side?" a staffer waiting for their request to be filled complained.

"It is a first world problem, I know," another staffer told BuzzFeed News. "But for people with injuries it just stops doing more damage."

"It's not like we're asking for Feng Shui," one joked, "our offices don't comply with workplace safety regulations."

The federal government's own workplace safety guidelines recommend Parliament House staff ensure a "standing-friendly culture is promoted and supported" to stop the increased risk of diabetes, certain types of cancers, heart disease and early death caused by sedentary work.

How? By using "height adjustable desks so workers can work either standing or sitting."

Comcare / Via comcare.gov.au

Managers are encouraged to create less sedentary work environments by holding standing meetings, eating lunch away from their desk and using a bathroom that is further away.

But staff say this is "bullshit" and the government doesn't practise what it preaches.

One Senate staff member said it took more than three months for their request to be processed because of the red tape involved.

"It took six days for the department of finance assessors to come from [the suburb of] Bruce (a 15 minute drive from parliament house), one month to write the report, one month for Finance to send the report to Senate who have control of the design of the building and one month to get me a desk."

"While there’s bigger things to worry about, I know I’m not the only one who suffers being stuck behind a desk for 12+ hours a day while the Senate sits!" one staffer complained to BuzzFeed News.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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