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Training to protect staff from danger
Effective health and safety management is not just about acting ethically and complying with the law. There is also a strong business case for investing in health and safety in the workplace, not least because an accident or work-related ill health can disrupt
service delivery and can also be very costly, both financially and in terms of damage to reputation.
The care sector comprises of a wide range of establishments including local authorities, and in the NHS, the private and voluntary sectors. Hospitals are about restoring or assuring health but they are also potentially hazardous workplaces. It is widely known that those employed in the care sector are often putting the needs of their patients/residents ahead of their own – and sometimes to such an extent, that they risk their own health in the process.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers to ensure the health and safety of all its employees and anyone who may be affected by their work. The latter is built on by The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require suitable and sufficient risk assessments to be carried out in order to ensure the necessary preventive and protective measures are put in place for everyone affected. It is, after all, an employer’s duty to assess, “so far as is reasonably practicable”, the absence of risk to the safety and health of employees and others who are affected by their undertakings, such as patients.
Those employed in the care sector can come across a variety of threats to their safety, health and wellbeing during the course of their daily work – and we are not just talking about slips and trips here. Issues associated with shift work, violence and aggression, cross infection, manual handling, use of chemicals (the list is quite long) can all arise and take their toll on staff. Something else to think about is the fact that care homes, for example, are not only a place of work but also a home. Each resident has different needs, which is why a flexible approach towards the design of facilities and safety is needed.
Managing the risks
In the health and social care sector, the risk of injury varies depending on your occupation. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), care workers and home carers suffered more non-fatal injuries in 2012/13 than any other occupation in the field. A total of 493 care workers and home carers were reported to have suffered non-fatal major injuries, with a further 1,903 suffering other injuries which required them to have at least seven days off work. The latter was exceeded only by nurses and nursing auxiliaries and assistants, who amassed 4,073 injuries between them.
When it comes to health and safety management in care homes, a set of strict guidelines governing every hazard will not necessarily suit every environment. A balance has to be struck between the person’s needs and the independence of others who may not suffer the same restrictions. These differences, however, should not detract from protecting the needs of the most vulnerable resident, which is laid out under health and safety legislation. The National Health Services and Community Care Act 1990 (Community Care Act) places emphasis on involving some level of risk-taking in acknowledgement of the need to develop and maintain skills associated with “everyday living”.
The Act focuses on the promotion of independence and the treatment of residents (with dignity and respect), as well as encouraging residents to live as independently as possible. This is why carrying out a robust risk assessment is a good place to start. Not only will this identify principal hazards, it will also assess the associated risks, and will encourage the recording and investigation of accidents and near-misses.
Similarly, in a hospital environment, some staff, such as nurses, may have to adopt and hold awkward postures as part of their job, so it is paramount that any stresses and strains arising as a result are addressed. It is important for all managers to work with employees to minimise risks, and to ensure who is responsible, for example, for clearing up spillages and objects quickly.
Joined up thinking
Risk assessment is a responsibility that should be taken seriously. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) offers training at locations across the UK to ensure businesses comply with the legal requirement to carrying out “suitable and sufficient” risk assessments. The one-day course puts the emphasis on practical exercises and covers legal requirements, hazards, and risks.
Incorrect handling of people in the health and social care sector can cause serious injury and so it is important that employees know and understand what they need to do to prevent or minimise the risk of injury to themselves and others. According to the HSE, provisional statistics for 2012/13, show an estimated three million working days were lost due to handling injuries and slips and trips, with the health and social care sector carrying the highest number of reported handling injuries (3,539).
Preventing handling injuries remains a major challenge. To help, staff should be trained on how to minimise the risk to their backs and limbs and this is why it is advisable for residential homes and authorities to purchase appropriate handling aids. Some other ways of helping to minimise risk include encouraging patients to assist in their own transfers and evaluating equipment and furniture before it is purchased. Equally important is a commitment to support and rehabilitate where possible those who have been injured in connection with their work.
Above all, there is a need for “joined up thinking” between the various caring agencies, not only in training and selection of equipment but in how the use of handling aids should be negotiated between agencies and clients. It is useful for carers to learn about human movement patterns and how to apply these to assist in transfers, both actively and passively, using a variety of small handling aids as well as hands-on techniques.
RoSPA runs safer people handling training courses designed to suit all care sectors as well as one that is focused on the person. These include the new BTEC Safer People Handling Trainers (Level 4) and Safer People Handling Hoist training, among others, which can be held either in-company or at the charity’s own fully‑equipped skills centres, providing delegates with a realistic training environment.
Depending on the level of risk, healthcare professionals working in hospitals, in particular, will be required to use personal protective equipment such as gloves and eye protection, for example, when dealing with harmful substances, such as those found in some ingredients in cleaning products and which can cause skin allergies and asthma.
The controls you need will depend on the task, which is why it is advised that employers enrol those who have a responsibility for using, handling, transporting and storing hazardous substances, on a chemical safety training to keep themselves and others safe.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 requires employers to control substances such as chemicals, fumes, dust and harmful micro‑organisms that can harm workers’ health.
If the packaging shows any hazard symbols then it is a substance which is likely to present risks to health and the right safety measures should be taken.
RoSPA offers two courses for organisations seeking to increase their knowledge of COSHH. The first is a one‑day course, also available in-company, and the second is a consultancy service focussing on the importance of identifying hazards – the first step towards completing “suitable and sufficient” risk assessments.
A safer workplace
In today’s busy and challenging healthcare sector, it pays to work together to ensure the health and safety of staff, patients, contractors and visitors, with staff training remaining of the upmost importance.
A systematic approach to health and safety management is to be preferred to a series of disjointed one-off interventions. This is why RoSPA is urging organisations not to turn their backs on health and safety, especially when times are tough, since for the most part, spending in a targeted way to reduce costly accidents and work‑related health damage will not only see the number of working days lost going down, but also a reduction in the associated costs which otherwise put a significant strain on already tight budgets.