19th August 2016

Health and Safety and Making the Right Decision

Employees must ensure that health and safety is managed appropriately for the work they carry out. It’s easier to manage health and safety in an environment such as an office where it is expected the risk to staff will be generally lower as hazards are more contained and controlled. In other environments, the hazards can be more difficult to manage. The care environment can have additional challenges with the added risks of providing support or care to a person who may have reduced mental and physical capacity. It can be even more difficult when the work involves the responsibility of taking care of another person, where staff are responsible for providing the appropriate level of care or support to service users on a day to day basis, 365 days a year.

In the care sector sometimes an employees’ action can make the difference between life and death. It is the smaller detail that can make this difference when deciding to allow an action to occur. This was seen recently in the case of a severely disabled woman choking while in the care of a senior support worker.

This incident occurred at an adult day care centre supporting a 34 year-old, severely disabled woman. The senior support worker allowed a sweet to be given to the woman who had not developed a rotary chew, the circular motion that allows food to be ground down enough to swallow. The woman required a soft diet. She choked and later died in hospital. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident found that the support worker failed to take reasonable care for the safety of the woman.

The support worker, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was sentenced to 80 days’ imprisonment, suspended for twelve months.

It can be challenging for staff working in the care sector to ensure they don’t put a person at risk of injury. It is sometimes the decisions that seem minor and insignificant that can have the greater impact.  The following are recommendations:

  • Staff should be given continual training to understand the importance of their role particularly when providing care or support
  • Staff must understand the serious nature of the work they undertake particularly if the service user has diminished mental and physical capacity
  • As an advocate to the service user, staff must understand that they will need to make decisions where ultimately a life can be at risk

Risk assessments for each service user is key to helping staff to make the right decisions.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Sally Beck

QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor

Sally is a multi skilled Chartered Health and Safety Practitioner with extensive experience of health, safety, quality and environmental consulting within the different industry sectors. She is also a Registered Nurse with previous nursing experience in both the private sector and the National Health Services. With extensive experience of CQC standards she has provided support and advice in implementing and managing health and safety.

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