2017 saw a number of high profile health and safety incidents in care homes that included serious injuries and fatalities. There is sometimes a sense from operators that they run a compliant operation and such incidents would not happen at their establishment. This article looks at two of the prosecutions in 2017 and the learning points that can be taken from these very tragic events.
In terms of health and safety, social care is high risk as it involves a large, diverse workforce looking after a predominantly vulnerable population. The risk profile of residents can alter rapidly meaning there is a need for operators to continually assess risk. Additionally, employees have the right to work in a healthy and safe workplace, while residents should receive care that is safe, and takes their needs, freedoms and dignity into account. Managing these different needs will sometimes present unique and complex situations which can, when not effectively managed, result in serious harm.
In June 2017, an operator was sentenced for health and safety offence where a resident died following a fall from a window. The window did contain a restrictor, however on examination it could be easily overridden, therefore it was not fit for purpose. A significant number of operators consider that because measures are in place to mitigate risks, then they have taken appropriate action in accordance with their responsibilities. Further action needs to be taken to assess whether the measure is effective and sufficiently robust. In this case, the fact that an 87 year old with dementia was able to override it was overwhelming evidence it was not. The company was fined £450,000 for this breach.
A different care provider was ordered to pay almost £60,000 in fines and costs after a woman suffered a serious burn while in the care of one of its nursing homes by sitting on a portable heater. Heaters were placed in residents’ bedrooms and communal areas as a temporary measure in January 2016, when the nursing home was experiencing difficulties with its heating system. A sudden adverse incident can present challenges in health and safety compliance where the initial focus in this case was to ensure that people were kept warm in the winter, In this case the resident suffered very serious burns and was hospitalised for 3 months.
The human cost and impact of these events are significant. The occurrence of a serious regulatory breach and the levels of fines being imposed can have a serious effect on the viability of the business. When looking at your business and considering health and safety, some key questions to ask yourself as a provider are:
1. As a senior management team, are we aware of the different risks and do we control them effectively?
2. How does the organisation demonstrate its commitment to health and safety?
3. Are our arrangements to control the real risks people are facing working?
4. How well do we know what is happening in the home - are there effective checks and reporting mechanisms in place?
5. Have we learned from situations where things have gone wrong or there has been a near miss?
6. Is health and safety an integral part of our day-to-day process for running the service?