How Safe Are Our Care Homes?

Fifty years ago if you had an old or severely ill relative, the whole family would try to pull together in providing for them and usually closest family members would sacrifice their comforts and privacy in order to take in there mums, dads and grandparents.

Nowadays things seem to be a bit different. For most of us it is now financially impossible. Our busy lives and the difficult economic times leave us with little or no option or time to take proper care of those whom have given us so much including life. It is not an easy situation and quite an emotional decision to make to send mum or dad into residential care home. In most cases everybody would think that after a certain point in life the oldest or seriously ill members of the family would be better off being taken care of by professionals.

We must remember care homes are an industry and they are there to be profitable like any other business and the more “advanced” and “civilized” we become the more popular care homes seem to be. We are obviously concerned for the wellbeing of our loved ones and in most cases the residential care facilities are managed properly and as the law requires, or at least that is what we would expect.

Recently the HSE has published new guidance which will apply from 11th of May, regarding the use of sharp instruments in health care Sharp Instruments in Healthcare Regulations 2013 as part of the COSHH Regulations as concerns about the management and safety in residential care sector has been rising for a while and a meeting was held regarding this issue during an IOSH seminar in Dublin.

One of the biggest safety concerns for this industry is fire safety. Fires occur very rarely but when they do the outcome is catastrophic and the reason being that in most cases patients of care homes are not actually able to walk out of the building during a fire.

Unless otherwise detected by a risk assessment conducted by competent person, duty holder or safety advisor, the biggest risk for a fire in residential care homes is the electrical installation. It includes the incoming supply cables, switchgear, distribution boards, socket outlets, etc.

This needs to be installed and maintained properly by a professional electrician according to the most widely used standard UK BS 7671: 2008(2011), which would give security for compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 to owners and managers. Initially the Regulations do not require regular check ups of the electrical system, but the guidance on BS7671 recommends inspection at least every five years or other intervals, by competent electrician.

A basic tool and first stop for duty holders on how to prevent fire in the care industry should be the risk assessment. It should be regularly reviewed if there are any changes in the premises. Also essential is to stress the point that the fire risk assessment should be conducted by a “responsible person” who would be legally responsible for its adequacy.

Another issue is muscoscoskeletal disorders and manual handling which are among the biggest hazards for employees working in care homes. These hazards should be reduced to a minimum where reasonably possible, according to the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 which apply for the sector.

Appropriate training in manual handling and the correct use of hoist are essential for the duty holder to provide the employees with especially because in most cases lifting (and the appropriate assistance with mobility) of the residents is an essential part of their wellbeing and improvement of health and life style. Of course the prevention of back pain and other musk skeletal disorders should be a priority which would reduce work absences and work related diseases as well.

All of these health and safety issues and more are part of the general happiness of patients and residents of the care homes. Patient handling should be the highest priority for the professionals and duty holders working in the industry. Taking care of the most vulnerable members of society should be a vocation and not simply a business. Or at least that is what I would like to believe about the care professionals.

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