Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Nov-Dec 2014 Contents THE IMPORTANCE OF
When it comes to improving employee
safety in aged care it might be wise to
think outside the box, according to a new
study conducted by research firm the
Voice Project and Macquarie University
organisational psychologist Dr Allan Bull.
The research concluded that while
traditional approaches, such as focusing
on upgrading facilities, investing in
training and polices are important,
they alone are not sufficient to improve
employee safety and reduce workers
The study pointed to the importance
of broader work characteristics such
as employee psychological wellbeing
and a culture of respect, as equally vital
considerations for employers.
The research, which analysed changes
in employee survey results, safety incidents
and workers compensation claim rates
within a large aged care organisation
across two years, reported that employee
psychological wellbeing is the greatest
predictor of changes in safety incident rates.
It was also one of only two significant
predictors of changes in workers
compensation rates, the other being
the extent to which the organisation
discouraged bullying and harassment.
Indeed, marginal improvements in
psychological wellbeing reduced safety
incident rates by 11 per cent.
Changes in role clarity, staff
involvement in decision making, the
quality of supervision and the presence
of a respectful culture free of bullying
and inequality also led to changes in
However, changes in employee ratings
of the condition of facilities, the efficiency
of processes, the organisation's safety
climate and staff engagement did not
predict changes in safety incident rates.
"Whilst you have to have safety
processes and good design in place,
just focusing on improving them wasn't
going to drive significant improvements
above the baseline level of safety that the
organisation was achieving," says Carly
Adams, consultant with the Voice Project.
Adams says employee psychological
wellbeing is important because it influences
a person's cognitive capacity, behavioural
responses and emotional state at work.
"Stress increases cognitive load, so it
depletes the resources staff have to cope
with any additional strain or situation that
arises," she says. "It means that staff are
CASE STUDY: Screening for healthy employees
Since introducing an injury prevention
program five years ago, WA
not-for-profit provider Amana
Living has experienced a 70
per cent reduction in workers
compensation claims, placing
its safety incident rate among
the lowest in the industry.
A key element of the
program says Amana Living
general manager of human
resources Jenny Williams is
the clear matching of staff
competencies with the physical
requirements of the job.
All potential candidates undergo a pre-
employment physical assessment to ensure
they have the capacity to meet the physical
demands of the work.
"A physical job description has been
developed for each role and every person
coming into the organisation is assessed
against the capacities that are required to
carry out each task safely," says Williams.
She says if candidates fail some areas
of the assessment, they are often provided
with advice or exercises so they can
improve to a point where they can meet the
physical requirements of the job.
"It's not necessarily screening them
out, it's more about having a look
at are they able to come into the
organisation at the present time,"
she says. "Often we will have
people who will come back and
they will successfully get positions
with us once they are well and
able to do the job."
Manual handling training is
also a compulsory part of staff
induction, and is revised after
three months and then annually.
"It's very strongly reinforced to all
staff about what safe practice is
and what good practice is to make sure
that they keep themselves and our clients
safe," Williams says.
Supplementing the injury prevention
program is the early identification of injuries
and a safe return to work program. As part
of a staged return to work, staff may be
offered a small number of shifts, lighter
duties, adaptive equipment or work at
alternative Amana Living site.
The organisation also has a policy
of supporting employees regardless of
whether it is a work-related or non-work-
related injury or illness.
Some 97 per cent of employees who
experience an injury have been able to
return to work within a couple of weeks,
"We are highly proactive with staff when
they are injured. Our injury management
and wellness manager is in contact and
working with people in the first 24 hours of
an injury and she works with them every
step of the way to ensure that people can
return safely to work and very quickly."
The organisation also takes a broad
view of staff wellness to include access to
counselling, financial support and advice
and retirement planning in partnership with
superannuation, insurance and employee
assistance program providers.
"They are the sorts of things that weigh
on people's minds and impact their focus
on the job and retention," says Williams.
"If we can help support our staff in other
areas of their life, it allows them to be more
positive and more focussed when they are
on the job as well."
Amana Living's injury prevention
program won in the health and wellbeing
category at the 2014 Aged & Community
Services WA Excellence in Care Awards
held in June.
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