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An Overview to Health and Safety – The Working Environment
All working environments are different, ranging from low risk office work to more complex healthcare settings. The healthcare sector is a unique working environment which has a multitude of risks to healthcare workers. In addition, a different approach to style of working methods is required as the emphasis is on providing care or support services to individuals with sometimes multifaceted needs.
The healthcare working environment could be care or nursing homes, GP surgeries, clinics, departments in hospitals, outreach support services, dental or alternative medicine consultation clinics. The differences and increase in risk are also impacted by the patterns and hours of working, which extend to different shift patterns, night, holiday and weekend work.
The risks to healthcare workers are different from, for example, an office worker, where working hours generally range from 09.00 to 17.00 with planned breaks. Healthcare workers have to deal with typical office hazards, such as working with IT, constant phone calls, slips, trips and falls, moving boxes and files, and also with specific hazards such as supporting individuals who may have challenging behaviour, or exposure to infectious diseases, biological hazards and fatigue impacted by shift work patterns. These additional variations to the working day evolve and present real-time work stressors to the workers.
Management of health, safety and welfare within such complicated, and sometimes difficult, work environments requires standard practices that can easily be followed by all personnel. A factor to consider is that many healthcare environments rely on the work of agency personnel who may not be as familiar with procedures as full-time, regular personnel. The procedures and policies therefore need to be clear, easily understood and be relatively straight forward to ensure appropriate implementation at all levels. An example would be the identification of a hazard occurring at night where the nurse in charge is an agency worker. The hazards reporting procedure and hazard defect report form would be completed at night and handed over to day staff to review and ensure appropriate action is taken. This procedure and form would need to be sufficiently easy to follow and understood to ensure all details are recorded accurately.
Identifying and reporting hazards within a working environment is the responsibility of all personnel, regardless of whether they are full-time, agency or self employed persons. Under the Health and Safety at work Act 1974 everyone has a duty to report hazards within the workplace. The management within the workplace need to ensure that they have put in place the mechanism to allow personnel to report and respond to any identified hazards effectively. Senior management will not be within the work environment at all times and therefore need to delegate this important task to all who potentially may see a hazard.
Empowering all personnel to be alert to hazards and respond appropriately will help eliminate or reduce incidents that could potentially injure a person. Different ways of empowering personnel are information, instruction, training and clear procedures and reporting forms. A positive reinforcement culture of personnel dealing immediately with hazards as they are identified with help ensure a safer work environment, which ultimately results in a healthier workforce and less incidents occurring.
Sally Beck RGN, BSc (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH - Health and Safety Expert