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The expanding home and community care sector (HACC) is struggling to keep up with demand.

Stringent Work Health and Safety laws are being introduced around the country. Staff, managers and organisations are clearly accountable to meet their respective duty of care obligations.

Now more than ever community care organisations need to carefully assess how they balance client care with staff safety.

As a community, we now face the challenge of supporting increasing numbers of elderly Australians who must remain in their homes longer while waiting for a place to become available in a care facility.

For the home and community care worker, not only do they need to contend with the risks presented by an uncontrolled work environment and the elderly client, but also the risks presented by anyone else in the home, including elderly spouses, mature aged children, other carers, visitors, and even neighbours.

Any one of these individuals may exhibit behaviours of concern exacerbated by a medical condition such as dementia, mental illness, physical and intellectual disability, dependence on alcohol or other drugs, trauma, or a combination of these.

For the most part community care workers are inadequately prepared to manage these risks when working alone. Training in personal safety and risk awareness is currently the exception rather than the norm.

Combined with a significant volume of aggressive or violent incidents, increasing rates of absenteeism and declining retention of staff are indicators of a workforce that does not feel safe in their roles, and a management that may be unaware of the problem.

For many organisations equipment, procedures and staff training have predominantly focused on the care a client receives in order to satisfy the customer and thus protect or improve  revenue for the organisation, rather than improving the wellbeing of staff. Historically this training has been perceived as a cost to be minimised.

Staff training, equipment, and procedures that increase the safety of staff  should be viewed as an investment in your staff and your organisation. Designed well, they will have a positive effect on client care and staff morale.

What are the benefits for your organisation of proactively investing in staff safety?

Perhaps decreased incidents, decreased severity of incidents that do occur, reduced medical and compensation expenses, decreased lost time, lowered Workcover insurance premiums, increased job satisfaction for staff, reduced frequency of staff initiated aggression, decreased absenteeism, increased staff retention, reduced staff turnover, lowered recruitment costs, and improved incident reporting which is an enabler for more  effective management of personal safety risks.

And if that is not enough to drive change, managers considering where to allocate budgets should keep in mind that they may be held individually liable if the organisation fails to fulfil its duty of care to staff or clients.

Client care and staff safety should not be in competition with each other. A proactive, well planned approach to staff safety should positively impact upon the wellbeing of staff, the care a client receives, and the bottom line of the organisation.
Travis Holland
T 1800 18 83 45

This article is an opinion piece written by Travis Holland, Managing Director, Holland Thomas and Associates.

This article first appeared in ACSA Agendas, Summer 2013 edition.

Trav photo
Travis Holland
Managing Director
Holland Thomas & Associates
Travis Holland email address