With the deregulation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) – management and HR professionals within the Health and Community Services sector are faced with some huge challenges in the year ahead.
In 2017, more employees and contractors are set to provide services directly within the community and away from the facilities, creating a huge mobile workforce. In Victoria, for example, Worksafe states that the healthcare sector is now the largest employer with over 365,000 paid employees and 21,000 workplaces.
A transient workforce brings with it new or increased risks and hazards that need to be addressed and it’s critical that we are proactive rather than reactive in managing these to help keep employees safe. So what are the risks to be aware of, and how can organisations ensure they are offering the best duty of care to their employees?
1. Fatigue management
With more mobile workers providing services directly within people’s homes and communities, driving will be a major concern. Staff will more than likely be using their own vehicle, so it’s critical that a risk management strategy is put in place to ensure the vehicles that clients will be transported in are maintained in a suitable condition. Then there’s the challenge of fatigue, as workers may be working with multiple employers, which presents a HR challenge in itself.
It’s not always apparent that contractors are juggling these shifts, so it’s critical to understand this risk so you can manage it. There was a recent case in the mining sector where a fatigued driver was involved in a serious car accident. The driver was awarded $1.25 million in damages, which was a serious wakeup call to this industry and highlighted the importance of fatigue management strategies.
Integrating a journey management system - like JESI - is a good way to track employee travels so you can be across how many jobs they are undertaking, along with their safety on the road. JESI is a smart device application that employees can use to plug in their travel details complete with check-in points so that employers can track their whereabouts and be immediately alerted if any incidents occur.
Creating policies around this should be undertaken by organisations to ensure safety in this area. Before assigning someone to a job, make it a requirement for them to declare what assignments they have undertaken within the previous 24 hours. At the minimum, this could save you a hefty lawsuit.
2. Manual handling
Having employees working directly in the community and in people’s homes creates a huge health and safety hurdle. For example, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what equipment will be available at each location to assist staff with Manual Handling tasks.
For any employees that are non-clinical, I strongly advocate that manhandling training should be mandatory. If staff are going to be vacuuming, putting out heavy rubbish or assisting the client in the bathroom – if that person falls and they try to catch them, the client might not have the right experience in supporting the weight and injuries can occur for both client and employee. I would recommend having a no lift policy along with adequate training for non-clinical staff that are providing support in a home environment.
3. Occupational violence
Occupational violence is unfortunately a risk associated with those working in the health and community space, and with staff now less likely to need to report back into facilities, a journey management solution is critical so that you can be immediately alerted if an incident has taken place.
An in-home risk assessment is also essential to be on the front foot of safety, capturing any indicators of potential occupational violence - apart from the client themselves - that has the potential to escalate into physical or non-physical aggression. This can include family members, evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, weapons around the home, or even the neighbours and immediate community.
I strongly advocate for a journey management software, like JESI, to form part of the risk management process for several reasons:
- To know where your staff are,
- To track incidents in real time so employers can immediately respond,
- To alert employees of an incident in an area they might be travelling to, such as adverse weather conditions or an occurrence in the community.
Organisations can plan and manage hazards much better if they know where their employees are.
Derica Coley is the Director, Risk, Safety and Compliance at Coalescence Pty Ltd and has over 20 years’ experience working within Occupational Health and Safety and Human Resources, helping businesses to create safe workplaces and achieve legislative compliance.