Recent reports of hospital emergency staff being threatened with guns, knives and acts of violence are a troubling trend in the medical and emergency sector, and highlight the difficulties some employers face in creating safe working environments for their staff.
According the Australia’s leading workplace relations consultancy Employsure, the issue indicates the complex problems facing employers charged with creating safe working environments for their employees.
Advice Services Team Leader Michael Wilkinson said that the inherent dangers in certain jobs continually shift and change, making it hard for employers to adequately mitigate the risks facing their staff.
“Workplace health and safety laws place responsibility for health and safety and risk management on the people in charge of the workplace,” he said. “The employers in these industries take on a huge amount of responsibility, yet the nature of these working environments can be unpredictable and emotionally charged.
“The types of risks facing paramedics and emergency nurses are escalating, and employers are being challenged to respond to threats they perhaps wouldn’t have had to consider just a few years ago.
“While employers can mitigate trip hazards and train for manual handling, someone bringing a weapon into the workplace takes matters to another level.
“These are extreme examples and not all employers face issues of this kind. But it does highlight the importance of safe working environments, and sometimes the risks to employee health and safety come from forces that can’t always be predicted or foreseen.”
The concerns have been raised after one patient brought a gun into the Royal Adelaide Hospital emergency department. Meanwhile a nurse was stabbed in the neck at Lyell McEwin Hospital, who was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Research from 2018 found that one-third of paramedics had been assaulted in the previous 12 months alone.
Unsafe workplaces cost the Australian economy $61.8 billion each year in lost productivity and compensation costs, and every Australian employer is responsible for taking reasonable steps to mitigate and eliminate safety risks. In practical terms that means identifying potential hazards, assessing the risks, and controlling them wherever possible.
Wilkinson said that constantly reviewing and adapting workplace safety procedures and policies is essential to identifying and managing risks before they happen.
“Workplace safety isn’t a set and forget exercise,” he said. “What we’re seeing in the medical sector applies to industries everywhere: dangers and risk always change and evolve. Workplace safety is ongoing and needs to adapt to the changing nature of our work and the modern workplace.”