Health services

People working in the health and social services sector are exposed to many health and safety hazards and risks on a daily basis.

It goes without saying that people working in our health and social services sector have the same right to a healthy and safe work environment as the clients/patients using their services.

What are the risks?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), every business has a responsibility to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and any others who could be who could be put at risk by the work of the business, such as customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public.

First, you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

The following are examples of only some of the health and safety risks for people in the health sector. We also provide general guidance on how to manage your work health and safety risks.

Germs and infection, such as mumps, chicken pox, or the flu, can be spread through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or speak.

How are workers and others harmed?

Workers, clients/patients and others can be exposed to infection in number of different ways, including:

  • airborne infections – which are spread through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or speak. Air-conditioning can escalate the spread of infections.
  • contact infections – which are transmitted through direct or indirect contact with bacteria or viruses. Direct contact can include physical contact with an infected person, or contact with blood and body fluids.
  • indirect contact infections – which involve touching an object or surface that has been contaminated by an infected person.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Ensure people wash their hands regularly.
  • Have processes in place to handle sharps properly.
  • Clean and disinfect spills.
  • Practise cough etiquette and encourage patients to do the same.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves
  • Ask patients to let reception workers know if they think they have an infectious illness.
  • Provide vaccinations to workers.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Poor lighting, liquid spills, uneven floor surfaces and other obstacles can put healthcare workers and clients/patients at risk of slip, trip or fall injuries.

How are workers and others harmed?

When someone falls as a result of a slip or trip, the injury can range from minor (bruises and scrapes) to more serious, including broken bones or head trauma. The severity of the injury will depend on the circumstances.

Examples of how injuries can be caused include:

  • uneven or poorly maintained floor surfaces
  • slippery/wet surfaces caused by water or other spilled substances
  • cluttered and confined work areas
  • poor lighting
  • wearing footwear that does not match the environmental conditions.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Look for slip and trip hazards as part of regular workplace inspections.
  • Educate workers about the importance of identifying and reporting slip and trip hazards, and involve them in identifying issues and solutions.
  • Practice good housekeeping - keep rooms tidy and remove unnecessary items and clutter (for example, by providing sufficient storage and ensuring things are put away).
  • Ensure floor or ground surfaces in work areas, car parks and entrances are clean, well lit, clear of obstacles and in good condition.
  • Ensure floors throughout work areas are level.
  • Ensure all steps and stairs have appropriate handrails.
  • Develop policies on how to safely carry objects (for example, no unstable or unbalanced loads), particularly on stairs.
  • Provide height access equipment (for example, mobile steps with handrails) for reaching objects or performing work above shoulder height.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

 

Healthcare workers often have to lift, carry or push people, putting them at risk of serious injury.

How are workers and others harmed?

Incorrectly lifting and moving clients/patients can cause a variety of injuries and conditions including:

  • muscle sprains and strains
  • injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs and other structures in the back
  • injuries to soft tissues such as nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs
  • abdominal hernias
  • chronic pain.

Some of these conditions are known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSD).

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Eliminate manually lifting of clients/patients, except in life-threatening situations.
  • Provide appropriate mechanical lifting aids and equipment (for example, overhead tracking, hoists, mobile hoists, wheeled equipment, slide sheets), and ensure they are used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications.
  • Train workers on safe handling methods (for example, work is done between shoulder and mid-thigh height and with the elbows close to the body) and how to safely use any mechanical aids and equipment.
  • Encourage clients/patients to provide assistance in their transfers.
  • Develop a patient care plan that includes information about recommended mechanical aids and equipment, plus safe handling methods (including how many people should assist with transfer). Review the plan regularly.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

For more information, see moving and handling people in the healthcare industry.

Violence can take many forms – ranging from physical assault and verbal abuse to intimidation and low-level threatening behaviour. Violence or threats of violence in the workplace are never acceptable.

How are workers and others affected?

Violence at work can include attempted or actual physical assault, verbal abuse, intimidation, and low-level threatening behaviour.

Violence or threats of violence can come from clients/patients, co-workers or even a worker’s family members or acquaintances.

Lone workers can be at greater risk.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

Here are some examples of things you can consider:

  • workplace layout (for example, a workplace layout must, so far as is reasonably practicable, allow people to enter, exit and move about without risks to health and safety – both under normal working conditions and in an emergency)
  • workplace policies and procedures (for example, how to deal with clients/patients including what unacceptable behaviour is and what to do about it)
  • what to do in an emergency (for example, you must also provide adequate first aid equipment/facilities and access to first aiders)
  • training, (for example, you must provide your workers with the training/supervision they need to work safely, such as procedures for working safely)
  • other security measures:
    • Panic buttons/duress alarms to seek help and alert other workers to potential danger.
    • CCTV with warning signs.
    • Signs that set out clear expectations of the behaviour of customers (eg no bad language, no verbal abuse, no physical intimidation) and the consequences of bad behaviour.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation. You should also have effective ways to investigate and deal with violence when it does occur.

See violence at work for more information. 

The causes of work-related stress and fatigue are numerous, including long hours, a heavy workload and conflicts with clients/patients or co-workers.

How are workers and others affected?

Work-related stress is increasingly becoming an issue for workplaces.

There is often confusion between challenge and stress in the workplace. While challenge at work can have positive effects on people, work-related stress is a work-related health issue that can pose risks to psychological and physical health.

The effects of work-related stress can vary from individual to individual. In general, work-related stress is associated with:

  • illness and disease
  • low morale and engagement
  • anxiety
  • lower performance and productivity
  • antisocial behaviours.

What can you do?

First you should always try to eliminate the risk. Where this is not possible, you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Set achievable demands for your workers in relation to agreed hours of work.
  • Match worker’s skills and abilities to job demands.
  • Support workers to have a level of control over their pace of work.
  • Develop multi-disciplinary teams to share ideas and perspectives on ways to address situations.
  • Involve workers in decisions that may impact their health and safety, and have processes to enable workers to raise any issues and concerns they might have.
  • Ensure managers and supervisors have the capability and knowledge to identify, understand and support workers who may be feeling stressed.
  • Have agreed policies and procedures to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour.
  • Engage and consult with workers before implementing change processes, and ensure they genuinely have the ability to influence the decisions you make.
  • Provide workers with access to independent counselling services.
  • Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They know where the health and safety pressure points are, and can suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train new workers on what the risks are and how to keep healthy and safe.
  • Make sure workers know how to make suggestions, raise questions or concerns.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Workers who spend their day sitting at a desk and working on a computer are prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and ergonomics.

How are workers and others affected?

Administrative workers can spend a lot of their work day seated at a desk, using a computer or taking phone calls. As a result they are prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and repetitive movement.

Poor ergonomics can also contribute to people getting harmed, for example, incorrect chair height, inadequate equipment spacing or incorrect desk or monitor height.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Provide adjustable furniture and equipment – one size does not fit all when it comes to chairs and work surfaces.
  • Educate workers about their head position; try to keep the weight of the head directly above its base of support (neck).
  • Encourage workers not to slouch when sitting at a desk. People should use the lumbar support of their chair and avoid sitting in a way that places body weight more on one side than the other.
  • Ensure people move their chairs as close to their work as possible to avoid leaning and reaching. Make sure monitors are placed directly in front of workers, with the top of the monitor no higher than eye level. Keyboards should be directly in front of the monitor so people don’t have to frequently turn their head and neck.
  • Make sure workers’ arms are supported. If arms are not supported, the muscles of people’s neck and shoulders are likely to be fatigued by the end of the day.
  • If possible, provide people with a hands free phone.
  • Ensure monitors are not too close to avoid eye strain close. It should be at least an arm’s length away.
  • Take steps to control screen glare, and make sure that the monitor is not placed in front of a window or a bright background.
  • Encourage workers to take breaks and move around where possible.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.