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19th December 2017

Are You Prepared For Christmas?

Introduction

This year we have discussed a number of safety-related issues which, as owners, managers, and staff within the health and social care sector you need to be aware of. At a time when we exchange presents, eat too much food and maybe drink too much, the health, safety and wellbeing of staff can be overlooked in the busyness of preparing that homely feeling of Christmas past for our residents and visitors. Some residents will look forward whilst some may want to isolate themselves in their bedrooms wishing the time will pass and normality resume.

What Hazards do I Need to be Aware of at This Time of Year?

Firstly consider the extra activities that occur in the run-up to Christmas and how this impacts on staff, residents, family and other visitors:

  • Christmas Tree and lights – risk of trailing wires which could be a trip hazard and could even cause the tree to fall over on someone. Also, the risk of overloading sockets which could be a fire hazard. Never be tempted to put an extension lead into another extension lead and always fully open a lead as part coiled leads can overheat and cause a fire. Leads must be linked to an RCD (some extension leads have them fitted)
  • Christmas decorations – sometimes stepladders are needed and thus the risk of falling from overstretching or losing balance. Stepladders must be in good condition and only used for a short duration on level ground. Never stand on the top platform
  • Christmas candles – tea lights in a bowl are safer than standalone candles which could be easily knocked with a risk of burns and fire. Make sure that on window ledges they are not near curtains or other fabrics which could present a fire hazard
  • Don’t forget outside pathways that may need gritting, Christmas plants or maybe a Christmas tree with external lights. Always be aware of weather conditions and only undertake such work if safe to do so remembering to put any necessary barriers in place
  • Drinking – staff are not allowed to drink on duty as per the alcohol policy. However, for residents, it is their home so they can drink (check their personal risk assessment ie: medication and alcohol could be dangerous) and indeed so can family members who visit and have been drinking
  • Food poisoning – this is covered in an earlier blog. The common hazards are food which remains standing ie: buffets, meat which is not cooked through (raw in the centre), poor food hygiene and storage, high-risk foods ie: dairy products (yoghurts, cream, desserts) which can get warm if left too long out of the fridge
  • Stress – whilst social care requires the need to multi-task (focus on a number of tasks at the same time), at Christmas, this can get frantic with balancing residents' needs, extra work in preparing for Christmas in addition to staff having their own family lives ie children
  • Money – balancing your personal budget can not only be stressful as it is an expensive time of year, some staff can get into serious financial difficulties.

What Do Staff Need to be Aware of With Residents?

Our residents are vulnerable and can also be frail; caring and supporting them to provide a better quality of life is why we work in health and social care, so let’s give them the best Christmas we can by remembering their needs and supporting them.

Residents can struggle at this time of year for many reasons:

  • Loss of a loved one or a close friend!
  • Not wanting a fuss
  • Too much activity – noise, more people in the home can make them nervous, afraid and cause them to isolate themselves
  • Other people are drinking and they can’t due to their medication
  • They may be lonely – don’t have any family thus seeing others having a good time can be painful
  • Residents who wander as part of their condition can get even more confused and staff need to be aware of this
  • Behavioural issues surface ie: bed wetting, drinking too much, being inappropriate ie in what they say or how they dress, leaving Christmas candles unattended in their bedroom. (Check your home policy – some homes do not allow candles in bedrooms other than LED candle lights)
  • Spending too much money on presents for family and friends
  • Some residents may want to buy staff a present – this should be discouraged or be something which all staff can share ie: a box of chocolates or biscuits of nominal value
  • Risk that some residents who wander could tailgate visitors leaving the buildings and wander off site.

What Do I Need to Do?

Balancing the demands of staff and residents presents many challenges, particularly at such a busy time of year. A few things worth considering:

  • Plan ahead and prepare as much as possible in advance
  • Staff rotas – it's important to balance them out fairly – remember some staff have families and need to spend time with them particularly if they have children. Remember that you will need extra staff on duty to make sure everyone is safe
  • It's important to make staff aware of the alcohol policy and that staff who smell of alcohol can’t come into work!
  • Pay special attention to high-risk areas ie: plant rooms, laundry, chemical store, kitchens etc, making sure that they are always kept locked. Always keep your keys on you and make sure the offices are locked if unattended
  • Make sure that Resident care plans and personal risk assessments are updated
  • Check current general risk assessments to make sure they cover the extra activities around Christmas
  • Make sure that medication is updated and there is enough over the Christmas period
  • Be aware of staff who may be struggling financially or are prone to drink too much – they may need extra support or have places to signpost them for support or counselling
  • Check your fire plan, know how many people you can have in the building at any point in time. Pay special attention to exit routes, combustibles and general clutter. These areas need to be clear at all times including Christmas
  • Make sure that relatives, family etc don’t block cars in areas reserved for emergency services etc.

What Is My Legal Duty?

Given the number of activities going on, there are a number of pieces of legislation to be aware of which will have been covered in various blogs and articles through the year. However, the overarching piece of legislation is The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 section 2 and section 3.

The key points are to provide a safe environment for staff to work in, a safe environment for residents, visitors and others who visit the home.  This means the home must have according to section 2 (2):

  • Safe plant and systems of work
  • Safe handling, storage and transport of articles and substances
  • Provision of information, instruction, training and supervision for all employees
  • Safe place of work, provision and maintenance of access and egress without risk
  • Provision of adequate facilities and welfare arrangements

As a manager, you have a duty for the safety of residents and visitors whilst they are on your premises, including in the external grounds to the homes. The is covered by section 3 (1) which requires:

'An employer has to conduct his home in a way which ensures, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of persons not employed by him/her who could be affected if they are exposed health and safety risks.'

Summary

As an owner or manager, you have a duty to staff, residents and visitors to make sure your home is safe this Christmas. You owe this to yourself, your staff and residents and all who will visit this Christmas time and New Year. Make this a time of true celebration.

Have a wonderful and safe Christmas and New Year!

References

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 2 and Section 3

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Dave Bennion

Health and Safety Specialist

Dave is a multi-sited safety practitioner with extensive experienced in health and safety, fire safety, environmental management, quality and lean management consulting in a variety of industry setting. Dave is also the Director of DGB Health and Safety Ltd based in Bingley, West Yorkshire.

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