New ACC guidelines set to decrease severe rest-home injuries
ACC’s updated document “Moving and Handling of People – the New Zealand Guidelines 2012” provides up-to-date guidance on reducing the risk of severe back and shoulder injuries to caregivers.
Independent research done by Intersafe Australia over several years shows that a significant number of rest-home caregivers are making claims for serious injuries.
The level of claims made was high compared to other health sector providers, says ACC spokesman Glenn Donovan.
“[A 2009 study] indicated that out of 925 ACC entitlement claims, 353 claims resulted in carers taking more than 60 days away from work – mostly for lower back and shoulder claims.
“Most of these claims related to patient handling.”
Since 2009, the number of ACC claims lodged by workers in residential care and ambulance sectors has been steadily increasing.
According to statistics held by ACC, 4524 claims from these workers were made in the 2011/12 financial year, compared with 3831 for 2010/11 and 3388 for the year before.
This marks a slightly more than 30% increase in claims between 2010 and 2012.
The most common injuries sustained by rest home and ambulance workers were soft tissue injuries – strains, sprains and musculo-skeletal damage – and the number of claims for soft tissue injuries increased by 9% from 2011 to 2012.
In 2012, claims made by rest home carers accounted for just over 40% of all claims for health care sector workers.
Mr Donovan says that, in addition to larger numbers of serious injuries, the updated guidelines were spurred by changes in the equipment use to move patients and an increased number of heavier rest home clients.
Physiotherapist Jane Fairbairn , who specialises in working with older people, says she welcomes the changes to the ACC guidelines.
One of the positives, she is that they recommend more refresher courses for all rest home facility staff in patient handling.
“The public have an idea about back care and back injuries but people are less aware of the impact of shoulder injuries,” says Ms Fairbairn.
“They can affect your ability to do small tasks, such as washing your hair, carrying groceries and driving. We use our shoulders more than we realise.”
Ms Fairbairn has worked in aged care for the past 10 years, and says that workers are generally more aware of the risks of moving patients and are receiving more training.
“The biggest challenge at the moment is the turnover of staff in rest homesas you’ve got lots of new staff coming in who don’t understand the impact of injuries, or the importance of training.
“And then there’s the night staff who are more at risk because there are so few staff on to assist when incidents occur.. Things are getting better, but it’s not perfect.”
Former rest-home caregiver Jean Eltringham injured her back four years ago, after she attempted to lift a client who had slipped in the bathroom.
She had to do so without a hoist, since she had not been trained to operate the hoists used at the home – despite having used hoists extensively in previous roles.
“The manager wouldn’t let me use it, as she hadn’t trained me one-on-one,” says Mrs Eltringham.
“With the level of responsibility in that job, I would have expected basic training being included in the staff orientation.
“The training in the rest home was really lax. If caregivers are not comfortable and confident, that’s when accidents happen.”
Four years on, Mrs Eltringham says she still gets residual pain and gets spasms in her back, which cause extreme discomfort and restricted movement.
“It’s incredibly hard to get out of bed some days. Even just getting out of a chair can be a struggle.”
“Rest homes need to do more to prevent accidents – not just have ambulances at the bottom of the cliff.”
The Labour Group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has produced guidelines on identifying hazards and preventing musculo-skeletal injuries.
However, spokesman Mark Smith says the Ministry has not been made aware of specific concerns about health and safety in rest homes, so has not taken any recent enforcement action.
He says the Ministry has not undertaken any recent audits of rest homes or ambulance services, as it has been focused on workplaces at risk from cancer-causing agents, respiratory hazards, skin irritants and noise.
NewsWire also contacted the Wellington Free Ambulance to enquire about its policies to prevent injuries to paramedics.
However, a spokesperson said the organisation could discuss the issues, as to do so would breach patient confidentiality.