Owners and managers of care companies, juggling multiple functions and responsibilities, often overlook Health & Safety regulations.
But workplace Health & Safety should be a top priority.
After all, safeguarding people from risk of harm is a legal duty – the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states employers must protect employees and others. They must do this ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ by removing or controlling any Health & Safety risks.
Illness and Injury
Health & Safety hazards associated with the care sector are sometimes thought to be low risk but incidents remain common. Research shows each year in the health and social care sector:
- 5% of workers (186,000) suffer a work-related illness – significantly higher than the 3.1% rate for workers across all industries
- 2% of workers (86,000) sustain a work-related injury
This leads to 5.7 million lost working days. Health & Safety is all the more business critical as failings can result in firms closing given the much bigger fines being handed out for breaking Health & Safety law. Data shows the care sector paid:
- more than a fifth (21%) of Health & Safety fines in cases brought by local authorities
- £3.2m in Health & Safety fines in the first year of the new tougher sentencing guidelines (year end 31 January 2017)
- two of the largest Health & Safety fines across all UK industries (one care home alone paid £1.6m)
1. Lifting and Moving
As part of a care role, workers often need to lift, move or carry objects and some clients will require physical assistance to get around.
Lifting and moving, repetitive hand or arm movements, tiring or painful positions are a common cause of musculoskeletal disorders among care workers, particularly when proper lifting procedures and assists are not in place. Around a third of reported ‘over 7-day’ injuries in the health and social care sector are due to lifting/handling accidents.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulation 1992 require necessary training on manual handling to prevent accidents and injuries occurring.
2. Mental Health
Annually around 2.1% of health and social care workers (some 85,000) suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This rate is significantly higher than the 1.2% rate across all industries.
There should be an action plan in place to identify and prevent work-related stress.
On average, stress and musculoskeletal disorders account for over 80% of the work-related illness cases in the health and social care sector.
3. Hazardous Substances
In a care environment workers may have regular contact with substances and chemicals that can be hazardous to health.
Cleaning products such as bleach can cause serious harm if not used safely. Exposure to some chemicals may lead to short-term problems such as rashes or allergic reactions, while others can cause long-term illnesses like asthma or dermatitis. Risks include:
- direct contact with skin
- breathing in fumes or gases
- swallowing a hazardous substance
Workers must be protected from hazardous substances and suitable protective clothing and equipment should be provided as well as adequate training.
4. Slips, Trips and Falls
Slips, trips and falls are a common cause of injury to both workers and clients.
While employers are responsible for preventing accidents wherever possible in a care setting, examples of what can go wrong when risks are not adequately addressed are all too common.
In 2017 a care home company was fined almost £500,000 after a resident fell from a first-floor window. An investigation found a restrictor that normally prevented it fully opening was easily overridden and not fit for purpose.
Care home premises invariably have many different types of fire hazards.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 does not set out what fire equipment should be installed. It does though require assessment of fire risk and reasonable steps to reduce it. This usually requires installing and maintaining fire alarms and emergency lighting. It may also include sprinklers, smoke venting and dry or wet risers.
Many care workers use equipment that can cause serious injury. All work equipment should be regularly maintained to minimise the risk.
The Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 specifically requires equipment is adequately guarded to prevent contact with dangerous moving parts. Equipment used to lift things must be regularly inspected and maintained under the Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998.
Workers must be properly trained in the use of equipment. In 2017 a care home was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000 after a resident fatally slipped when being moved with a poorly fitted hoist.
7. Electrics, Gas and Water
Shock injuries are a danger when workers are exposed to damaged wiring or equipment, especially when adequate training has not been given.
Electrics must be maintained under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. British Standard BS 7671 provides a detailed inspection of electrical wiring should be carried out in premises every three years.
Similar issues arise with gas and water. In 2016 a care home company was fined £100,000 after a resident was fatally scalded. An investigation found bathroom taps were not adjusted to limit the temperature to a safe level for bathing and showering.
Water distribution and cooling systems may require detailed Legionella management.
8. Violence and Psychosocial Risk
Physical assault is one of the most common injury kinds in the health and social care sector.
Assault accounts for 16% of injuries with 1.3% of workers in caring personal service occupations reporting encountering violence at work.
Time pressure and long irregular hours are recognised psychosocial risk factors and are estimated to be present in a large proportion of care sector workplaces (49% and 35% respectively).
How We Can Help
Ellis Whittam make simple sense of the law – something that’s most unusual for a Health & Safety company!
Employers are legally required to receive Health & Safety advice from a ‘Competent Person’. We provide this Health & Safety help and will closely work with you to keep your business safe.
A Health & Safety consultant with specific experience of the care sector will help to identify the hazards in your workplace and manage the risks.
We help directors and managers understand and keep on top of their multiple Health & Safety duties. Contact us to learn about our fixed fee, unlimited support service.