By Leon Harris CPP
Published in INsite, April/May 2003
Every Australian state and territory has OH&S legislation. Although with some variation between them, they do have a common intention, i.e. to provide employees (and visitors) with a safe and healthy place of work. In 1996, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services published ‘A Practical Guide to Implementing Occupational Health and Safety in Residential Aged Care’.(subsequently replaced in 2000). This Guide provided useful and well considered direction for residential aged care facilities to enable them to develop their own OH&S program. It specifically dedicated a section on the area of security.
The Guide defined risk management as “the management processes for reducing the potential for a hazard to cause harm”. Risk management includes hazard identification (security review), assessing the risk and controlling or managing the risk.
It clearly stated that under common law, where there is a breach of the duty of care that results in injury, there may be an action for negligence. It further stated, “whether or not the action is successful, the aged care facility, and individuals, can suffer the ‘penalty’ of stress and the expense of preparing for and, being part of, a court action”. As security specialists in aged care, we have seen these situations too often. Responses to a breach may vary in severity. They include a notice of improvement, an infringement or prohibition (of certain tasks). There is also the possibility of prosecution with the potential of a gaol term.
Although aged care facilities want and need to create a home-like environment for residents, this should not (and need not) come at the expense of personal security. Conversely, appropriate (and reasonable) security, if approached strategically, should not impinge on the home-like environment.
The Guide also differentiated the words ‘shall’ and ‘should’. Under the Guide, the word ‘shall’ is mandatory, whilst ‘should’ is discretionary.
The Guide advised a survey ‘shall’ be conducted “to identify hazards related to security and assess the level of risk”. It further advised that the focus is to be on the personal safety of employees and that if required pertinent external specialist advice be obtained.
What may have been acceptable in the past, particularly in the areas of workplace practices, training and architectural design, may not be acceptable today; considering amongst other things legal implications relating to duty of care compliance. An example being uncontrolled perimeter points, especially after hours.
Where workers operate in isolation or there is a sole worker, additional measures may need to be implemented. A security review should assess and treat any risks facing staff going to and from their vehicles, especially in the evening.
As with other areas of OH&S, the Guide also advised staff ‘shall’ receive training (security awareness) in the types of potential security threats. This training should also include knowledge of ‘site specific’ security risks/threats, security measures in place, as well as the location and use of emergency equipment. Training should also include staff responsibility for the recording of (security) incidents.
The Guide was quite explicit in what is mandatory under OH&S, and identifies management’s responsibility to the safety of staff from physical risk/threat.
From experience, most operators are enthusiastic and effective in meeting OH&S requirements, however, because it is outside their area of expertise, they often require assistance in identifying and managing security risks. Although most managers will agree security is a concern, there is the trend amongst many to delegate it to the bottom of the “To Do List” and, unfortunately, more ‘immediate’ concerns continually keep it in that location. Security needs to be part of core business.
There is sufficient anecdotal evidence of physical assaults being committed against staff from external sources, with a number of physical assault cases ending up in civil or industrial courts. In previous articles I have mentioned that a number of these cases have resulted in large compensation payouts. Other negative side effects include loss of staff productivity, demoralised and fearful staff, and possible difficulty in the recruitment of new staff. There is also the damage to the facility’s (and management’s) reputation. Regrettably, the risk of physical assault has not diminished.
Management can no longer be dismissive about security risk management because they perceive their facility’s risk is low. A well constructed security risk management framework is required for all facilities to ensure that their OH&S compliance can be satisfied and verified. The latest version (2000) The Guide: Implementing Occupational Health and Safety in Residential Aged Care is available atwww.health.gov.au/acc/manuals/ohs/ohsindex.htm.
Leon Harris CPP, is the principal consultant for Harris Crime Prevention Services.
Harris Crime Prevention Services provides on an occasional basis articles by other Industry experts, such as: How Airports apply designing out crime principles