Within the United States there are 3,211,590 people employed as Home health and personal care aides, either in Home Health Care Centres or Continued Care Retirement Communities and Assisted living facilities for the elderly ¹.The two states with the highest employment levels in this field are California and New York.² Care is an enormous industry that is growing every year, however, these employment numbers are not nearly high enough, as many facilities are found to be significantly understaffed. This means staff become lone workers, working where they cannot be seen or heard by another member of staff.
What are the Risks of Lone Working In a Care Facility?
In 2019 the General, Municipal, Boilermakers’ and Allied Trade Union, now referred to as “GMB” compiled statistics on the number of assaults on care workers in Britain. They found that between the financial years 2013-14 and 2017-18, 6,034 violent attacks on carers resulting in serious injury were reported to the Health and Safety Executive. Of those, 5,008 workers were so seriously injured that they had to take at least seven days off work. A further 1,026 carers suffered a “specified” injury – a category that includes fractures, loss of sight, brain damage, loss of consciousness, asphyxia, or amputation.³
Another study of 2,803 staff carried out in the same year by carehome.co.uk, found that 48 per cent of care workers in care homes have been on the receiving end of both physical and verbal abuse from residents.⁴ Concluding that this is not a safe working environment.
Why is the number of incidents so high?
Violent attacks account for a third of reports involving residential care workers – compared with just 7% of reports for all workers in other industries.⁵ Lone working in care homes means you are frequently interacting with residents with mental illness, whether it’s dementia, Alzheimer’s, bipolar or schizophrenia and unfortunately these people can become violent putting staff in dangerous situations.
Workers in a study carried out in 2019 by Stirling University reported that immediate violence against staff is typically caused by resident fear, confusion and agitation. They also cited a number of underlying causes, such as understaffing, the impersonal task-driven organisation of work, inappropriate resident placement, and inadequate time for emotional and social care.⁶ The study which was based around group interviews with 56 staff at seven long-term care communities in Ontario, Canada, between 2016 and 2018 found that violence against long term care staff had become normalised and even seen by management as ‘part of the job’.⁷
During the years 2017-2020 inclusive, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 125 workplace fatalities in the nursing and residential care facilities sector.⁸
How Can Care Homes Keep Their Staff Safe?
There are many things companies can do to keep their care workers safe and reduce the risk of workplace injuries. The first thing to do is proper risk assessments of the environments and residents being cared for; is there a history of violence? What are the safety risks? Is there a danger to personal safety? Are there potential hazards? Are there biological hazards? Is there an emergency plan or emergency procedures that need to be followed? Once these issues have been addressed there needs to be a company policy created that includes regular contact with carers and a panic button or lone worker solution.
A great way for care workers to combine regular check ins, a panic button and a lone worker solution is with a lone worker safety app. These can be downloaded directly to a Smartphone, so there is no need for additional devices. There are many great features that will help keep lone working care home staff safe, like the high risk check in. Lone worker apps have automated countdown timers that remind workers to regularly check in throughout their day. The high risk check in however, can be adjusted by workers themselves. This can be done when they are going into a situation they deem potentially more dangerous than normal, like working with a resident known to have aggressive outbursts or who has been violent in the past. Some lone worker apps also have the option for workers to discreetly request help by tapping their phone while in a pocket, so as not to escalate the situation or alert the resident that they are requesting assistance.
1 – https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/healthcare-support-occupations-had-employment-of-6-4-million-in-may-2020.htm
6, 7 – University of Stirling. “Violence against long-term care staff ‘normalized’.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190326105637.htm>
8 – https://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag623.htm