Home care workers need better safety measures to ensure sustainable workforce

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Without mitigating safety risks for this cohort, we face more severe workforce shortages for these in-demand services. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key Points:

  • A Monash Business School research review has found up to 20% of home care workers are injured on the job every year and almost half will endure at least one serious injury during their career
  • More than one-quarter experience physical or verbal violence at work and 70% warn they are regularly exposed to badly managed health and safety hazards
  • The research review came from 49 pieces of both national and international literature regarding the physical and psychological safety faced by in-home carers

Home care workers face a plethora of health and safety risks at work and researchers are calling for comprehensive changes to better safeguard their well-being and their longevity in the growing sector.

Professor Herman Tse, Department of Management at Monash Business School, led the first part of a three-tiered research project and described his findings as “alarming”. 

“The situation may be getting worse,” he warned. 

“The bottom line is we may not have enough labour to offer those kinds of services, but the population is also ageing and most of the time, they would prefer to continue to stay at home.

Without mitigating safety risks for this cohort, Australia – along with many countries – faces a lack of workers to uphold these in-demand services, meaning the only option would be to place clients in residential care. 

Common safety issues and defining different types of home care work

Prof Tse identified four major types of psychological and physical risks experienced by home care workers in his literary review: 

  • Environmental
  • Job-based
  • Relationship-based
  • Organisational-based

However, he noted that it was difficult to classify these risks because of the nature of the job, its scope and a lack of definition to identify the different types of home care workers by the Government and industry agencies. 

A home care worker covers a variety of workers who provide a range of professional health services in the home. For example, a clinician may come to a client’s home to do a blood test or physiotherapy while a home carer may come to provide daily aged care services such as cleaning and bathing.

“We need to be more specific about the different types of in-home services to see whether potential risks differ across the different types of in-home workers because the risk would be very subject to the type of services they provide,” Prof Tse told HelloCare.

“House repairs or renovations may be being done at the time a worker is due to come to the residence and the client should report this to the agency so it can inform the worker, but, in general, they don’t […] This can relate to the communications and the transparency process between the client and agency.” 

A prime example of this was when an aged care worker was hospitalised with serious injuries just last month after being mauled by an unrestrained dog residing at a client’s home.

Thorough training and processes to protect workers

Better training is needed when home care workers complete their studies to be able to understand and identify potential risks involved in the job.

He said workers can’t simply rely on agencies to do an assessment beforehand because they all have different policies and procedures. Hence, workers need to look after themselves with adequate training. 

“They should be alert about this when they come to a new environment,” Prof Tse explained. 

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Professor Tse. [Source: LinkedIn]

“In general, agencies would have an assessment done by a supervisor before a home care worker goes in, but some do not.”

More also needs to be done by agencies to match home care workers with clients based on experience and competence. Some workers may be more experienced in dealing with certain clients or situations than others.

Prof Tse said, “I found younger home carers may struggle more with relationship management with the clients compared with older workers. Older workers may be more confident and competent to assess the job before they agree to it.” 

If workers identify any risks while on the job, workers need to report them to their agency and see what advice it can offer or what training they can provide.

Potential solutions

Some solutions can be implemented to mitigate these problems and Prof Tse plans to produce some suggestions to the Federal Government and home care agencies once he collates further research from future focus groups and survey results from all involved in the sector. 

For example, new technology like an app may be able to be provided to clients for them to provide information and updates to the agency and workers instantly rather than having to call or email. 

Prof Tse also wants to see the Federal Government implement a solid framework to differentiate the different types of home care workers and the potential health and safety risks each may face.

“We need to be more aware of workplace risks to provide a more healthy, safe environment so we can attract more workers and retain them in this space to manage the increasing demands,” he said. 

“I think all the stakeholders, clients, governments and agencies need to work together so it’s an integrated approach.” 

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  1. It is a hard job dealing with humans at the best if time. It is harder to look after some elderly due to their needs, personalities or cognitive health. I can understand why family prefer to have carers look after their parents as it can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting. In saying that family who agree to allow strangers to look after their elderly family members need to put some amount of effort into seeing they are happy with the people coming to their home or facility and that cares they need are being done. When you are in someone’s home you don’t have the security of a facility of more staff to come to your aid when something goes wrong either. All I will say on the topic is that unless the carers are paid much higher rates of pay this sort of very personal care will again become an issue. It isn’t the sort of work most people aspire to do when at school. It is a probably more suitable for older women who have grown children and have the experience to communicate on a better level than some of these very young people who have chosen this sort of work.It is a revolving door of carers from strange countries who move around from place to place looking for better paid work all the time. RNs are now paid substantially better even though the carers are now expected to do Physio work like exercise,massage, cutting toenails, taking residents out, kitchen work, Laundry, Lifestyle etc. Funny how the 15% pay rise has lead to AINs being used in all facets of the job now. So much for the “minutes” spent with residents! Who benifits financially? The Aged Care owners and shareholders. Looks like we are back to where we started folks!

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