Community Care in the home – is the workplace safe?

nursing-home-careAs the number of people aging or with a disability increase there is a greater demand for services that allow them to stay in their own homes within the community.  The range of providers, including carers, nurses, cleaners, housekeepers and property maintenance personnel highlights an increased need for guidance in managing Occupational Health and Safety challenges that arise when providing a service within residences.

An employer (or PCUB) has a duty to ensure each worker, as far as reasonably practicable, is safe from injury and risks to health whilst at work.  The same applies for agency staff, subcontractors and anyone else in the workplace.  The workplace for this particular industry includes private homes, residential care homes and other community settings.  Service providers must conduct a risk assessment in the home before providing any service to the client, to identify potential hazards and put appropriate controls in place to reduce the risk of injury or illness for clients, carers and other workers.  If the assessment shows that workers are exposed to significant risks, service providers may need to modify or suspend that particular service until the risk has been adequately controlled.  A visit to the home enables the service provider to carry out a risk audit and identify potential hazards but what about the psychological hazards like aggressive behaviour and occupational stress?  What are the risk factors?  How are the risk factors controlled and how are these controls monitored?

Aggressive behaviour is an important health and safety issue for many workers who provide services in the home.  If aggressive behaviour is not managed properly the workers are at risk of physical injury or psychological illness.  Workers may be exposed to aggressive behaviour when working with clients who have challenging behaviours as a result of a medical condition or an intellectual impairment.  They may also be exposed to an environment where other people pose a risk to their personal security, for example the client’s family and friends.

Occupational stress is the physiological and emotional responses when workers perceive an imbalance between their work demands and their capability and the resources to meet those demands.  Stress occurs when the imbalance is such that the worker perceives they are not coping in situations where it is important to them that they do.  There may be a change in the client’s physical or mental condition between visits, there may even be another agency also providing assistance that have made changes that affect the workplace or even the worker’s procedures.

One of the problems of working in a home environment is working in isolation, without assistance for team handling.  Consultation with both the worker and the client is paramount to understanding the difficulties faced by the workers and identifying any individual risks that may be specific to a worker’s particular workplace.  Consulting with staff and conducting regular safety audits will ensure that effective controls are in place and they are being used by the worker.  Since workers in the community do not work in a single workplace, consultation presents a challenge and the formality of the consultation process will depend on the size of the organisation.   It all comes back to that very important “Safety System”, if there are policies, procedures, controls to minimise risk and effective communication in the organisation then you have done what is necessary to comply with the laws in your state.  It is important that all relevant parties, including the clients and primary carers, work together to identify workplace health and safety risks and the best ways to manage them.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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