Centacare Community Services (Centacare) provides a variety of support to disability and aged care clients, employing over 1,900 employees who provide support to 7,800 clients in over 200 locations across South East Queensland. These services range from assistance with community participation, in-home support and respite care.
What was the challenge?
One of the most common support services provided by Centacare is aged care in-home domestic assistance. During the six months' leading up to this intervention, Centacare identified some concerning issues based on workers' compensation data:
- the average number of incidents reported1 relating to sprain/strains from performing cleaning duties was two per region (a total of twelve)
- two workers' compensation claims related to sprain/strains from cleaning were reported from the Moreton Bay region (the region in which the intervention was later trialled)
- eight workers' compensation claims related to sprain/strains from cleaning were reported across all Centacare regions, at a total claim cost of approximately $47,000.
Centacare found that the leading contributor to their workers' compensation claims involving musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) was undertaking domestic assistance work. Employees were challenged by the physically demanding and repetitive nature of cleaning.
1Centacare noted this number may reflect a level of underreporting, due to introduction of a new online reporting system.
How was the challenge approached?
Centacare used a consultative approach, known as Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks (PErforM) to reduce the risk of injury from undertaking manual tasks.
Participatory ergonomics involves actively including workers in developing and implementing workplace changes. The premise of this approach is that the employees who perform the manual tasks have an expert knowledge of those tasks and how they might be changed to improve health and safety, and productivity. Employees are, therefore, best placed to undertake the risk management process of hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and evaluation.
This program provided a foundation for Centacare employees to clearly illustrate the risks involved with their work in aged care, specifically with domestic assistance. Centacare tailored the PErforM program to suit their organisation's needs and developed materials to workshop with staff.
What risks were identified?
During workshops, employees identified the following risks of injury from manual handling:
- high levels of awkward postures and repetitive movement with moderate levels of exertion in the lower back, shoulders and wrists, arising from the activities of domestic assistance (i.e. mopping, vacuuming, bed making and cleaning showers).
- unsuitable cleaning equipment provided to employees by aged care clients, including old, ineffective, faulty or equipment not suited to the task.
What was done to make improvements?
During the PErforM workshops, employees and work health and safety (WHS) practitioners identified a number of control measures including the provision of alternative equipment more suited to the tasks performed. For example, it was suggested that microfibre equipment replace traditional cotton string mops, which were heavy and left surfaces wet, requiring a second dry mop over the same area. The aim was to provide employees with improved ergonomics through light-weight, adjustable equipment and a tool for supporting mattresses to eliminate lifting when changing sheets. The equipment identified as most suitable included a telescopic microfibre mop and bucket, telescopic bath scrubber and a bed maker tool.
Centacare management were consulted on the suggested control measures identified and agreed to the purchase of 495 sets of equipment. This equipment was trialled over a five-month period by employees providing domestic assistance to Centacare's aged care clients in the Moreton Bay region. The provision of new updated equipment was supported by employee training on safe manual handling techniques (for using the equipment) and organisation-wide communications to support wider use.
Image: Telescopic microfibre mop, Bed MadeEz lifter and telescopic bathroom scrubber.
What were the outcomes?
A clear benefit of this trial is the engagement with employees enabling them to better understand the risks and involvement in identifying solutions. This increased safety awareness has resulted in improved safety outcomes through better equipment design in the inherently manual role of in-home cleaning.
Following the trial period, employees provided feedback through a survey. The results indicated:
- eighty-three per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the alternative equipment made their job easier
- eighty per cent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the alternative equipment reduced the time taken to complete the task
- a 17 per cent reduction in body discomfort at the end of each rostered shift
- sixty-seven per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the alternative equipment required less effort to use (than the equipment provided by the aged care clients).
In addition, there were no reported claims associated with cleaning during the trial period.
The leadership team agreed to purchase the equipment identified as most suitable for all disability supported living accommodations. Centacare is considering an opt-in initiative for aged care clients to select the preferred equipment to be purchased for their homes, which will benefit clients, as well as Centacare employees.
The PErforM program will continue to assist Centacare management implement ongoing improvements to address hazardous manual tasks in aged care domestic assistance services.
For more information and resources to improve your businesses work health and safety:
- visit worksafe.qld.gov.au
- call 1300 362 128.