Across the globe, aged care homes have been at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic, and Australia is no exception. As of the 8th June 2020, there were 99 cases of COVID-19 among people receiving Australian Government-subsidised aged care, and in recent weeks Victoria in particular has seen a sharp rise in cases of COVID-19, with many attributed to the virus spreading in workplaces – including aged care homes. The virus has now infected 112 staff, 93 residents, and 11 household contacts across 40 aged care facilities.
The Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said there have been cases in recent days of staff linked to outbreaks who have worked across multiple facilities. Never has there been more of a focus on health and safety in the care sector. The fact is that a rising number of COVID-10 deaths are occurring in the very places that are dedicated to keeping our older loved ones comfortable and safe. There is no denying that COVID-19 has shone a light on the importance of workplace health and safety. And, while the complex needs of care home residents pose challenges for embedding safety practices at an individual and organisational level, there is also a duty to protect employees and contractors. With both residents and nursing home employees at an increased risk in the current pandemic, we can’t lose sight of how broader workplace health and safety obligations will be met.
Understanding Your Responsibilities
The first step towards keeping staff safe is understanding Australian health and safety regulations. Aged care providers are expected to adhere to provisions within the Aged Care Act. And now there is additional guidance from The Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus to account for. New standards have been put in place to protect residents and staff, establishing standards, protocols and procedures.
There have been several problems in the sector in recent years, with systematic failures leading to poor quality care. The Royal Commission, a landmark enquiry, has been established to address the issues. Over the coming year, there will no doubt be further changes to ensure workplace compliance. However, providers shouldn’t wait for enforcement to take action. Workplace compliance should be embedded immediately to ensure the continued safety of both their employees and residents in these troubling times.
Identifying Risk Areas
Once you are clear of your overarching responsibilities towards your employees, it’s time to understand the specific risks that they are facing in the workplace. At the current time, COVID-19 is obviously a significant risk and one we are all aware of. However, there are also other health and safety risks that tend to be common to aged care homes:
- Back injuries – care home workers are often required to do a lot of lifting. If not done correctly, it can lead to repetitive motion injuries and musculoskeletal problems of the back, hands, wrists, shoulders, ankles and feet.
- Slips and falls – there are a lot of medical devices used in care homes connected with electrical cords. It is vital to review every area within the facility to identify any areas where slips and falls are more likely to occur.
- Fatigue – care home workers often work long, tiring hours. If they aren’t taking regular breaks, eating a healthy diet and getting exercise and fresh air, they may become at risk of fatigue and exhaustion.
Implementing Safety Measures
Once you understand the risks your employees are facing, it’s time to put measures in place to try to protect them. And, you can’t expect your employees to go it alone. You need to provide the tools, technologies and training to help staff keep themselves safe:
- Equipment – providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff is a fundamental way for them to protect themselves and others, especially in the current situation we’re facing. Equipment can also be used to make lifting and moving more manageable for staff.
- Training – safety education is fundamental in reducing health and safety risks for your employees. You need to be aware of reading and comprehension skills and provide different formats and approaches to ensure every member of your team is up to date with your safety procedures.
- Signage – even if you’ve given your employees the best training in the world, you can’t expect them to not forget things from time to time. Highly visible signage should be placed throughout facilities in all communal areas to act as a constant reminder of necessary safety precautions.
- Communication – it’s vital to have shift change meetings but also weekly safety discussions for all your staff. This gives you a chance to involve your employees in safety communications, understand their worries and concerns and ensure you are doing everything possible to keep them safe.
Putting Safety First
Safety should come first at all times in aged care homes if your employees and your residents are to stay safe. Every step you take, whether it is education, training or technology, demonstrates your attitude to safety. Ultimately, by showing your employees that their wellbeing is a priority, not only will you keep them safer, but they will be more committed to your safety goals and your business as a result.
For over a decade, Conserve has helped organisations overcome contractor management challenges. We can help you develop a contractor management service that will be not only effective but will make your organisation safer, while minimising your overall risk. Request a demo now or visit the Conserve page for more great content.
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