Prevent and manage risk of physical injury in healthcare and social assistance

How to identify physical health and safety hazards and implement effective risk management processes.

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Overview

How this helps your business

When employees feel physically safe they enjoy their jobs more, perform better, and are more committed to their employer. While physical hazards are present in all workplaces, rates of work-related injuries and illnesses are very high within the aged care, health care, disability services and community services sectors. Regular 'manual handling' such as lifting and moving of people is a key contributor to this rate of injury.

Keeping records of hazards, their level of risk, and how you are addressing them, demonstrates to your employees that you care about their safety. Keeping detailed records also helps with managing occupational health and safety over time.

Physical injuries often also have an effect on mental health. The more support your employees have for both their physical and mental health and safety, the more likely they are to seek help for issues and return to work after an incident.

Key stats and facts


17,795  

worker's compensation claims per year for serious illness or injury in the healthcare and social assistance sector.

SafeWork Australia, 2018, Priority industry snapshot: Healthcare and social assistance


28%  

of healthcare injury claims in 2010-15 were lodged by personal carers and assistants.


87%  

of employers encourage workers to talk to superiors about workplace safety problems and 9% of employers think minor incidents are a normal part of daily work.

SafeWork Australia, 2014, Infographic: Thoughts about work

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

Managing all health and safety risks, both physical and mental, in your workplace is key to a safe environment. Before an employee can feel safe at work it is important to identify all safety risks in the workplace.

Watch Damien, a WorkSafe inspector, discuss the benefits of including staff in both identifying safety hazards and generating solutions.

The same principles that Damien discusses in the video can be applied to workplace risks to mental health.

It is important to remember that the physical and mental health risks in your workplace are closely linked and can have an impact on your employees. Find out how the importance of physical safety affects your employees' mental health and wellbeing through the WorkSafe Victoria videos below.

How to do your own inspection - Fix the problems

Hazardous manual handling - Is the work safe? Do I feel safe?

Step 2

Identify the risks

Ways to identify safety issues could include a combination of the following:

  • Talk to your employees when inspecting the workplace and ask about the hazards they have come across.
  • Check injury and safety data from organisations such as WorkSafe Victoria, industry associations and unions, manufacturers and suppliers.
  • Review workplace and equipment ergonomics including safety measures for transporting patients/clients and use of fleet cars.
  • Test and measure for hazards such as toxic drug and chemical agents, sharp objects and disposal options.
  • Review occupational violence and aggression prevention and management systems.
  • Review continuous or repetitive tasks such as lifting, bathing or moving patients. Repetitive actions can cause serious physical injury due to muscular overload or through a loss in concentration.
  • Survey employees and others at your workplace to find out about safety concerns.
  • Look at a job or task as a whole and consult with your employees to find all the risks involved (physical and psychological).
  • Schedule meetings with your health and safety representatives and committees to talk about risk management processes.
  • Include risk assessment as an agenda item for employee meetings to raise concerns and observations.
  • Maintain and analyse records such as your injury register and incident reports. Check our example template in the resources below.
  • Track near misses. This can be done in a diary, log or even online recording tool.

Use the Safety Action Plan template below to list your possible health and safety issues.

You will start to notice hazard trends to work with your staff around and develop solutions to stop them happening again. For example, in your industry many injury claims are due to muscular stress from lifting and moving objects and people. Verbal and physical assault are also common.

Step 3

Consult your staff

There are many ways you can talk with your employees about managing risks in your workplace, including:

  • having safety issues as an agenda item at your regular meetings. This could include 'toolbox talks', production meetings, staff meetings or any way your organisation communicates with each other
  • casually walking around your workplace with your staff
  • through your health and safety representatives
  • through your health and safety committees
  • a suggestions box
  • a safety or concern hotline
  • employee associations

Step 4

Assess the risks

After you've collected your list of possible safety issues and reviewed any injuries or 'near misses' in your workplace, assess how serious the risk is and prioritise which ones need the most urgent attention.

Take a look at each item on your risk list, and ask yourself and your staff:

  • What could happen if things go wrong? Are we talking about scratches and bruises, or could someone be seriously injured or even killed?
  • Is it an everyday task? Or something that only comes up now and then? When is a solution needed by?
  • Are there things you can do right now, as a short-term fix, while you work out a permanent solution?

Once you've worked out which issues have the most potential to cause injury or disease, or are a risk to public safety, mark them as your high priority issues. After that, rank them in order from highest to lowest priority.

Regularly review and update your list with your workers. By continuously monitoring your workplace, you can make sure new safety issues are immediately identified.

Step 5

Manage the risks

Once you've decided which safety issues are most urgent, you need to start fixing the problems. Your first aim should be to totally remove the problem. For example, if the issue is a hazardous chemical, try to find a safe alternative to the chemical. If there is a slipping or tripping hazard in your workplace, see if it can be removed.

If it's not possible to totally remove a hazard, you need to find ways to control it. You might have to change the way certain jobs are done, change work procedures, or perhaps give employees protective equipment.

Watch this video to see how St John of God Berwick Hospital involved their staff, and changed the set up of spaces to significantly reduce hazardous manual handling practices.

You'll often find there are simple solutions to many of the risks in your workplace. Most of them will be low cost, and some will cost nothing at all. Of course, sometimes there are no simple solutions, and drawing on other people's experiences and ideas will really help. Include your staff, industry associations and working groups to gather suggestions for handling similar issues.

Find out about more WorkSafe health and safety guides, solutions and tools for your industry from the pages on the WorkSafe website listed below.

Step 6

Review and keep improving

Once you've put processes in place to manage risks to physical health and safety, you need to check on them regularly to make sure they're working as planned. WorkSafe Victoria has information to assist you to make long term, sustainable improvements to safety in your workplace. Use the resource below to regularly check your workplace risks.

WorkSafe Victoria's advisory services can provide a first point of contact for your workplace if you are concerned or require further information on managing risks in the workplace.

WorkSafe Advisory Service

WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.

1800 136 089 More contact options

More information

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