Managing risks

Workers may be exposed to a range of hazards that can affect their health and well-being, depending on: 

  • the services they provide 

  • the location of the workplace, and  

  • the people being cared for.  

The following can help to identify potential hazards in the health care and social assistance industry:  

  • observe the workplace to identify any risks 

  • review the tasks that involve working with hazards, such as chemicals and sharps 

  • ask your workers and others about problems they have encountered at the workplace, and  

  • review incident and injury records, including near misses. 

Common hazards and risks in the health care industry include, but are not limited to:  

  • ergonomic hazards from lifting, supporting and moving people and repetitive tasks 

  • biological and chemical hazards  

  • medical equipment, such as lasers and x-rays 

  • occupational violence, bullying and harassment 

  • work-related stress 

  • fatigue and shift work, and  

  • slips, trips and falls. 

When you are identifying hazards, consider:  

  • all the different places that workers may be 

  • the hazards they might encounter there, and  

  • the types of work they may be undertaking.  

Assessing the risks  

In many cases, the risks and related control measures will be well known. In other cases, you may need to carry out a risk assessment. A risk assessment identifies:  

  • the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard  

  • the likelihood of this harm occurring, and  

  • how serious the harm could be.  

A risk assessment helps determine what action should be taken to control the risks and how urgently the action needs to be taken. You should implement the most effective control measure that is reasonable in the circumstances.  

Ways to manage risks in health care and social assistance 

You must first aim to eliminate risks. For example, have patients move on their own to eliminate manual handling risks

If you can’t eliminate the risk, you must minimise it, so far as is reasonably practicable.  

Use one or more of the following approaches to minimise the risks: 

  • Substitute the hazard with something safer – for example, substitute a hazardous cleaning chemical with a safer one. 

  • Isolate the hazard – for example, set up exclusion zones around hazardous medical equipment. 

  • Use engineering control measures – for example, use lifting aids to move patients, minimising manual handling.  

You must use administrative control measures if risks remain. For example: 

  • schedule workers appropriately to minimise fatigue and working alone  

  • provide training on working safely 

  • supervise workers that are out in the community. 

Minimise remaining risks with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, biological and chemical hazards may require workers to wear gloves, eye protection, face masks and protective clothing. The model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks has more information on minimising risks. 

Control measures for common hazards and risks  

Examples of control measures for some common hazards and risks in the healthcare and social assistance industry are listed below. You must implement control measures specific to the hazards and risks at your workplace. Potential hazards and control measures are not limited to what is outlined below.  

Hazard: lifting, supporting and moving patients  

Control measures:  

  • provide beds and chairs that can re-position the patient. For example, an electronic bed that can be raised into the sitting position  

  • provide equipment designed to lift and move patients safely 

  • ensure there are enough workers to be able to perform the manual handling task safely  

  • ensure workers are trained in how to safely lift, support and move patients. 

For more information, see the model Code of Practice: Hazardous manual tasks and the webpage Lifting, pushing and pulling.  

Hazard: biological and chemical hazards  

Control measures:  

  • ensure workers have access to hygiene facilities and products, such as handwashing and eyewashing stations  

  • store chemicals safely and securely and keep a chemical register with the relevant safety data sheets (SDS

  • provide appropriate and correctly labelled waste receptacles for biological waste, chemicals and sharps  

  • train workers about storing, handling and disposing of biological hazards, chemicals and sharps safely   

  • provide PPE, such as gloves, face masks, eye protection and protective clothing. 

For further information see the Hazardous chemicals webpage.  

Hazard: medical equipment, such as lasers and X-rays 

Control measures:  

  • set up exclusion zones. For example, use signs and barriers to ensure workers and others cannot enter an area where the equipment is being used 

  • train workers about storage and safe handling of medical equipment 

  • ensure that the equipment is always operating at optimal levels and is regularly maintained 

  • provide appropriate PPE, such as lead aprons and eye protection. Ensure PPE is adequately tested and maintained 

  • monitor individual (personal) exposure through appropriate personal dosimeters and amount of the time when the worker is exposed to harmful radiation 

  • ensure workers and others are not wearing metal objects such as jewellery while using magnetic equipment, such as MRIs  

  • carefully review the exposure conditions of pregnant workers and others to prevent exposure to unsafe doses of radiation.  

For more information, see the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety website.  

Hazard: Work-related violence, aggression, harassment and bullying 

Control measures: 

  • where possible, avoid workers needing to work alone 

  • train workers in how to deal with: 

  • difficult patients and visitors 

  • conflict resolution, and  

  • when to escalate issues to senior staff, including procedures to report incidents 

  • if a worker is working in isolation or alone, make sure they have communication devices, such as pagers or mobile phones. Ensure they can contact support if they do not have control of a situation or are unsafe  

  • provide a positive, respectful work culture. Ensure violence, aggression, harassment and bullying by other workers is not tolerated. 

For more information see the Work-related violence webpage and the Bullying webpage

Hazard: Psychosocial risks (mental health)  

Control measures:  

  • clearly define workers’ roles 

  • provide workers with the resources, information and training they need to work safely 

  • regularly review workloads and time pressures with workers 

  • regularly check in with workers on how they are going, if anything is stressing them and how it can be addressed  

  • support workers who you identify to be at risk of workplace psychological injury 

  • provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns 

  • refer workers to mental health and wellbeing support services. This includes employee assistance programs. 

Hazard: slips, trips and falls  

Control measures:  

  • ensure the workplace is well lit  

  • use slip resistant flooring/mats  

  • ensure there are adequate cleaning procedures in place 

  • where possible, keep floor areas clear 

  • ensure workers have appropriate non-slip footwear. 

For more information, see the Slips and trips fact sheet.  

Hazard: fatigue and shift work  

Control measures:  

  • where possible, design the shift schedules to reduce fatigue. For example, avoid late finish to early start shifts  

  • provide adequate rest, sleep and meal facilities. Ensure suitable accommodation is provided if required  

  • implement job rotation to limit fatigue from physically demanding or repetitive tasks  

  • ensure workers are able to take their scheduled breaks. For example, through organising relief workers for break times.  

For more information see the Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work.  

Review control measures 

Risk management is an ongoing process. You should review control measures regularly to ensure they are working as planned. Consult with workers and their health and safety representatives as part of this process. Consider any changes to the work or workplaces and ensure the controls remain effective.  

Community care workers may be working in several places, such as different people’s homes. Ensure community care workers can review and put control measures in place for each workplace. For more information see the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks