By Karen Smith
According to Worksafe, 95% of healthcare workers suffer verbal abuse at some point in their careers, while between 8 and 38% of healthcare workers have experienced physical abuse. Patients and visitors are usually the perpetrators but they can also be family members or pets. Healthcare workers may also become targets of political violence in disaster or conflict situations and staff who are most at risk include nurses, paramedics and community health staff who offer in home patient care.
Increase in homecare
Advances in technology and medicine means more people have the option to stay home for their medical and rehabilitation needs so the number of in-home carers is growing. That means lone healthcare worker safety has never been a more important issue to ensure that workers feel safe and protected. If safety is not maintained, some skilled and professional workers may leave the industry, forcing more people into overcrowded hospitals.
Impact of violence in the workplace
Violence against healthcare workers can have many negative impacts on a person including their motivation for the job, physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing and financial burden. Stress, depression and fear can all cause long-lasting impacts on a person’s health.
Steps to provide a safer environment for lone healthcare workers
While it’s never completely possible to keep someone safe who is working alone, it is possible to minimise the risks.
Here are some ways that can be taken to provide a safer environment for lone healthcare workers providing in-home care:
- Perform a rapid risk assessment for each new client or home
Performing a lone worker risk assessment is important before visiting a new client at their home. Here are the reasons to perform a risk assessment:
- Understanding any known history of aggression or criminal history
- Understanding of any substance abuse
- Understanding of any known emotional or psychological concerns
- Being aware of any identified hoarding /squalor issues
- Knowing if they have pets and request they are tied up or put in a separate room
- Ensure your risk assessment action plan is up-to-date
Risk assessments should not only take place before meeting a new client but should be updated regularly. A risk assessment might need to be updated for example if the patient’s behaviour changes. Their changing behaviour might not necessarily be worse but it should be noted so if another healthcare worker came they would be aware of any updates.
Other times a risk assessment might need to be updated is if an accident occurs, the patient changes medication or if any harm has come to the healthcare worker or patient.
- Make sure the lone healthcare worker is provided with a duress alarm
A duress alarm should be carried on a lone healthcare worker at all times to ensure their safety. An alarm can be safer than having a mobile phone because the phone might be in a handbag or somewhere that’s out of reach. It also takes time to unlock and find the right contacts to call. The speed of response can make all the difference. A duress alarm can be worn around the neck, clipped to pants or put in a pocket and be accessed instantly when help is required.
When the button is pressed, it alerts the monitoring center who then decides what course of action is needed. If the situation is serious they will contact emergency services but if less severe the appropriate manager or staff member will be notified.
While these three steps can minimise the risks, there is no guarantee they will completely keep a lone worker safe. By keeping risk assessments up-to-date it reduces the risk to the lone worker conducting regular visits combined with a duress alarm provides the peace of mind help is on hand if required.
Bio: Karen Smith works for MePACS, a lead provider of personal alarms for seniors and duress alarms for healthcare workers. She is the Head of Sales and Marketing for the last four years and has over 20 years experience in health, technology, digital and finance industries.