Workplace Health and Safety in Aged Care - Definitive Guide (2021)

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Team Kiri Align
27th Aug 2021

Finding it hard to find the right advice on workplace health and safety for aged care? This definitive practical guide would help you identify, manage and prevent risks specific to your business

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) in Aged Care

WHS and Aged Care Homes

Aged care homes are peculiar workplaces. The residents there can't really take care of themselves and they need help thus making care homes a complex and demanding working environment. As a matter of fact, we frequently get requests for help from aged care homes about how to deal with their workplace health and safety issues.

Here is an example:

Let’s assume : There is an aged care home like any other that you would typically find in Sydney. One day, a worker had to take care of an elderly woman when she suddenly became aggressive. The woman used a sharp object to stab her arm and she needed surgery, which meant weeks of recovery and time away from work. A few months later - a doctor while doing a routine health check, slipped and fell on a wet floor. He fractured his wrist and was off work for six weeks because of the injury, which meant he couldn't work.

The two incidents were unrelated but both are examples of the risks and injuries that can happen to workers in aged care.

The moral of the story:

The risk of accidents and injuries is as real for workers in aged care, as it is for any other type of work. And when accidents happen, consequences can include medical bills, time off work and loss of productivity. Add other costs like increased insurance premiums, compensation claims, destruction of properties as well as PR and reputational damage to the equation and it's clear that no aged care facility can afford to ignore the issue of workplace health and safety if they care about their workers, their reputation and the bottom line.

The key to a safe workplace environment is to proactively plan and implement a health and safety program that meets the needs of their facility. This blog post offers advice on how to create an effective, practical and robust workplace health and safety program in aged care.

Let's get started!

Workplace Health and Safety Legislation in Aged Care

If you have been looking for a reason to take your aged care facility's health and safety obligations more seriously, consider the following:

Duties of Employers and Employees

The duties imposed by the Act on employers are:

The duties imposed by the Act on employees are:

Employers and employees must also comply with any orders made by the regulator.

Failure to comply:

Aged care facilities like any other organisation, face penalties if they fail to comply with the Act. An employee who breaches his or her duty of care may also be found liable for any injury caused by the breach. Penalties can include fines and orders to pay compensation.

Health and safety policy for Aged Care

Aged care facilities should develop a written health and safety policy that meets the needs of their facility. This document would guide the management, staff and contractors in the implementation of workplace health and safety measures. The policy should cover, among others the following:

The policy should be reviewed regularly to ensure it is up to date and in line with legislation.

Managing Health and Safety in Aged Care

Risk Assessment

To manage health and safety in aged care, a risk assessment needs to be undertaken. A risk assessment is an evaluation of potential hazards and risks for employees, customers or members of the public on a property. Typically, it is conducted in three stages: 

Hazard Identification:

The first stage is to identify the hazards which are present on the property.  What is a hazard in aged care? A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm or injury. It can be physical, chemical, biological or environmental in nature. Physical hazards which may be present in an aged care facility include: Slip/trip hazards on floors or stairs. 

Chemical hazards may include household cleaning products, pesticides, and other hazardous materials. Biological hazards may include viruses or bacteria. Environmental hazards are those which arise from the environment such as extreme temperatures, humidity and pollution. The hazard identification process can be done by an aged care provider, without the need to do a full risk assessment or engaging an external consultant. The following measures can be used to identify potential hazards:

Assess Risk

At this point after the hazards have been identified, the risk associated with each hazard is assessed. So how do you assess workplace health and safety risk in aged care?

A Risk Matrix is a useful tool for this. Risks are ranked on a scale of one to five, with five being the one of utmost concern - a priority. The tool considers 3 factors:

Risk Control 

Last, the risk control measures are identified. It is important that these controls reflect a balance of prevention and management (alongside any other mitigating factors). These controls will differ according to the identified risk and any existing policies, procedures or work health and safety regulations. As a general rule in occupational health and safety, risks are controlled using one or more of the following five hierarchies of controls:

Review and Measure Performance

With control measures in place, it is important to measure and review their effectiveness. The effectiveness of a control measure should be reviewed at least annually, and depending on the frequency with which it is used, its performance may need to be reviewed more frequently. Additionally, assess whether the control measure has been effective in achieving its purpose and if not, why this might be.

The following should be monitored:

If you find an issue with a control measure, it is necessary to immediately review and adjust the program.

Consultation on health and safety

It is recommended that the organisation consult with staff on their health and safety issues. This can be done by either engaging in a consultation process before introducing new control measures, or undertaking periodic consultation to review existing health and safety practices. When consulting:

Health and Safety Education, Training and Supervision

Provide employees with training and supervision to develop the knowledge, skills, behaviour and performance in their workplace. The provision of this training is an excellent way to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. For newly hired staff, it is a must that they are given a full induction to ensure they know the health and safety protocols.

It is important for managers to provide training on risk assessments, safe work practices, and the use of personal protective equipment. For more experienced employees it may be appropriate to provide refreshers on health and safety protocols. To identify the areas that need to be covered, it is important that the organisation consults with staff, conduct a Job Safety Analysis and use information from the Risk Assessment. Supervision shouldn't be seen as a tagalong to the provision of training, but rather as an integral part of it.

Supervisors should provide feedback to staff on their performance in relation to health and safety, and should provide feedback to the business on staff health and safety performance. Also, they are responsible for ensuring that people using equipment safely know how to do so, for example by providing regular demonstrations on how equipment is used.

Incident Investigation and Reporting

It is essential that a clear and concise, standardised process for investigating incidents, accidents, and near misses be developed and understood by all staff. This process should be reviewed and revised as needed to balance the need for timely notification with the need for thorough investigation. A key component of incident investigation is the prompt and sensitive reporting to both internal management and external authorities as required by law, such as WorkSafe. Accident investigation would help answer questions such as "What happened?" and "Why did it happen?” It would also help identify the potential cause of accidents that may have been prevented and to identify what can be done to prevent them in the future.

Emergency Plans

Emergency plans are a necessary part of the workplace that provides clear instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency. Emergency drills should be undertaken periodically to ensure that staff are aware of their role and the location of emergency exits. Examples of emergencies that may occur in aged care settings include:

Emergency plans should include a list of emergency contact numbers and information about the nearest hospital.

First Aid 

As part of the provisions of the WHS Act, employers must provide a first aid kit with the necessary supplies to provide emergency health care. The goal of providing first aid is to prevent or reduce further health damage and to relieve suffering until the injured person can be transported to a healthcare facility (if the case demands). First Aid Kits must be easily accessible, and may be stored in a cupboard, cabinet or on a shelf. Staff or an officer tasked with maintaining the kit should be informed of its location.

As a general rule, a first aid kit should contain:

Co-operation and Co-ordination with contractors

Aged care facilities do not exist in isolation and many of the responsibilities for workplace health and safety are shared with other stakeholders in a community especially contractors. When it comes to contractors, there are some key points that aged care should be aware of. Firstly, many contractors may have their own health and safety standards, which the aged care home should be aware of and make sure they are meeting theirs. Secondly, it is the responsibility of the aged care to inform these contractors of any hazards or risks and ensure that they are aware of the agreed procedures for managing these. 

Additionally, it is important to make sure that these contractors are registered with the government and compliant to all relevant legislation. Finally, in situations where both the contractor and the aged care are working side by side, it is important to make sure that there is a synergetic approach to ensuring health and safety.

Examples of Workplace Hazards in Aged Care (And How to deal with them)

Manual Handling

A lot of time, the worker will be moving people who are frail and easily injured. There will also be times where the worker is manipulating heavy weights or objects like wheelchairs and beds that are awkward and tiring to move. When a worker is doing this, they are at risk of injury to their back, shoulders, and joints - this is especially true when they are tired, positioned awkwardly, or unbalanced. 

Tips to prevent injury due to manual handling in aged care

Slips, Trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls are a common occurrence in aged care. It is important to identify the risks that put workers at risk of these events happening, and implement controls to reduce the risk. Some of these include:

Tips for reducing slips, trips and falls in aged care homes

It is important that people are reminded of the need to look after their own safety and avoid things like running in corridors, not wearing shoes in wet areas, or carrying too much at once.

Injuries from sharp objects 

It is not uncommon for aged care workers to work with sharp objects such as knives, glassware and needles. It is important as an employer to look out for these types of potential hazards to the workplace:

Tips for preventing injuries from sharp objects:

Violence and Aggression in the workplace

Aged care workers are at risk of being the target or witness to violence in the workplace. Acts such as threatening behaviour, verbal abuse, or physical violence can all have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of workers. 

Preventing violence and aggression in aged care

Hazardous Biological Materials 

Workers should be aware of hazardous biological materials like blood, saliva and urine. These materials can spread infection from person to person. As part of control measures, employers should:

Hazardous Chemicals 

A chemical that can cause injury or illness to a person through contact, ingestion, inhalation or exposure is considered hazardous. Examples of such in aged care are: Cleaning chemicals, disinfectants, weed killers, sterilizing agents, and pesticides etc.

Reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals in aged care facilities: 

Stress and fatigue

Stress and fatigue are two common factors that can lead to accidents in the workplace. Major contributors of these factors are: Lack of sleep, lack of time-off and the high demands in a workplace. Aged care workers are required to work shifts and at night. Tips for preventing stress and fatigue:

Workplace Health and Safety Software Solution for Aged Care

There are so many tasks and requirements to meet WHS in aged care. While legislation exists to specify how facilities must comply with health and safety requirements, ensuring they are all followed and adhered to is a different story.

Kiri Align takes the pain out of ensuring compliance by providing a simple and cost-effective health and safety management system. Once in place, you can track all your workplace health and safety requirements with the click of a button. You can send reminders for regular inspections; generate customized reports, get notifications instantly across a range of activities, including medication monitoring, grooming and hygiene. And in-built within the program are training modules that assure employees are up-to-date on the latest health and safety requirements. 

With so much you can do with Kiri Align, you might wonder how you ever managed to do without it! The system is easy to learn and setup, yet incredibly powerful and effective. Kiri Align Workplace Health and Safety Software is the best way to get your aged care facility up-to-date with a range of mandatory health and safety requirements in a quick, cost-effective manner.
Don't let health and safety compliance for your aged care cause you any more stress. Sign up for you free trial here.

Published by: Kiri Align