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Avoiding workplace injuries

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Many injuries in the workplace today can be avoided, saving employees physical loss and employers financial cost, according to a leading OHS expert.

Director of StandEzy Solutions and Aged Care physiotherapist consultant Ms Mary Whelan, delivered a paper at the 2006 Safety Conference, presented by Australian Exhibitions and Conferences.

Health and safety in the workplace has received considerable attention from government, business and employees over the years, according to Ms Whelan. A healthy and safe workplace should be a fundamental right of every worker and, given the costs of workers compensation and lost productivity makes sound business sense for an employer. 

The paper examined the case study of a medium sized high care aged care facility. It considered deficiencies identified in workplace safety, factors contributing to those deficiencies and set out a successful workplace solution.  

According to the study, work in high care facilities is physically demanding. Ninety per cent of all work done in a nursing home involves manual handling tasks. Every day personal care attendants and nurses must handle often highly dependent residents many times a day. This may be to get them out of or into bed, for shower or toilet, reposition in a chair or bed and give full care for hygiene, dressing, feeding and assistance with walking. Skill and acre are required in all these manual tasks. 

The injury rate to nurses is historically well-known. It led to the No Lift policy being introduced to aged care facilities. 

Lifting machines and slings are available to lift residents who are unable to lift themselves. However, incorrect use of these devices may leave the carer, resident or both with injury. The experience of the carers revealed that nurses did not receive adequate training for the use of these machines during their induction.  

The aged care industry has a high level of turnover and there is a constant need for trained workers twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The new staff look to existing staff for a lead. 

Despite the recruitment of trained and experienced staff, endorsement of OHS principles, the No Lift policy and access to modern lifting equipment, significant injuries and work cover claims occurred in the first two years.

A review of the facility’s operation revealed ongoing OHS risks and the tacit decision to rely on industry standard training had left the facility with significant industry exposure.  

Action carried out following the review included the purchase of new and more appropriate slings, colour coded manuals located strategically around the facility and students and supervisors were required to attend a manual handling induction program.

Manual handling training is now scheduled into the annual training program to develop more sophisticated thinking such as problem solving, building teamwork and time management. An adult learning approach is taken, acknowledging experience and building a shared knowledge.  

Within the industry the program would be recognised as “Implementation of a No Lift Policy”. This system is now the best practice model for aged care facilities.  

Work in a high care facility sometimes appears to present a paradox for safe working practices. The people who live in these facilities are the most dependent in our community, requiring the intervention of a carer for their everyday needs. The elderly must be cared for in a dignified environment. Neither safety nor resident care can be compromised. Caring solutions to difficult handling problems must be found. The No Lift policy recognises this.

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