As an employer you have a responsibility to look after your Personal Assistant’s (PAs) health and safety while they are working for you. You must show that you have taken reasonable care and adequate precautions in order to do this.
What are my responsibilities as an employer?
As an employer the health and safety of your staff is one of your key responsibilities. Not only do you have important legal responsibilities in this area, the more focus you put into creating a good working environment the more productive and supportive your PAs will be.
Your key responsibilities
As an employer you must:
- complete a risk assessment (see below)
- have up to date employer’s liability insurance
- provide any equipment and protective clothing your employees need to do their job e.g. gloves/aprons/masks.
- provide toilets, washing facilities and drinking water for your staff
- purchase a first aid kit. You must make sure you keep the first aid kit properly stocked at all times
- report serious injuries, diseases and dangerous incidents at work to the Health and Safety Executive’s Incident Contact Centre on 0345 300 9923
- display the Health and Safety Executive’s health and safety law poster or provide your employees with their leaflet ‘Health and safety law: What you need to know’. You can get a copy of this from http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/law.pdf.
What are my PA’s responsibilities?
Whilst working for you, your PA’s must:
- follow the training they have received and use equipment correctly, as they have been shown in their training
- actively take part in the risk assessment process if you ask them to
- take reasonable care of their own and other people’s health and safety
- co-operate with you on health and safety issues
- tell you if they think specific aspects of their work are putting their own or someone else’s health and safety at serious risk.
Completing a risk assessment
The first thing you must do to meet your health and safety responsibilities if you employ five or more employees is to complete a risk assessment. You should still risk assess even if you employ less than five employees and it is considered best practice to have completed a written risk assessment for each employee.
The law says that as an employer you must assess and control the risks in your workplace.
You need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are doing enough to prevent that harm.
If you have five or more employees you must write down what you’ve found. That record should include:
- the hazards (things that may cause harm)
- how they may harm people
- what you are already doing to control the risks.
A risk assessment…
…records all the potential hazards that exist in your home (the ‘workplace’) and how you plan to remove or minimise these potential hazards.
For more information please refer to https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/index.htm.
As an employer, you have to prove that you have taken ‘reasonable’ care and ‘reasonable’ action to prevent injury or risk of injury to your PAs. The easiest way to do this is to carry out a risk assessment – that way if something does go wrong you have the written evidence to show that you have acted reasonably.
Completing a good risk assessment and explaining it to your staff will:
- help to prevent injury and illness to your PA’s and other people in your home.
- help you to identify equipment that you need to buy and enable you to train PA’s and form part of your induction process for new PA’s.
- create a better and safer place to work, ensure that you have met your obligations under health and safety law promote better morale amongst your PA’s as they will see that you take their work seriously.
- help to avoid PA’s losing days off work to illness and injury.
If you wish you can use employer template 4.2(a) Risk Assessment to help you with this task.
Completing ‘Employer template 4.2(a) Risk assessment’
This section looks at how to complete Independent Lives template risk assessment:
- Employer template 4.2(a) Risk Assessment
However this section also contains relevant information if you are compiling your own risk assessment from scratch.
Why do I need to complete a risk assessment?
Completing a risk assessment allows you to:
- identify safe systems of work for your PAs
- consider your PAs individual and group needs when thinking about how they will carry out particular tasks
- meet your legal responsibilities as an employer.
What does the risk assessment identify?
Hazards are anything that might cause harm e.g. lifting heavy objects, uneven floors or steps or handling chemicals.
And then you will need to think about…
…that somebody could be harmed by each of these hazards and how serious this harm could be. The key thing to think about – is the chance of harm high or low?
Finally you will need to think about…
Strategies for minimising the risks…
…posed by the hazards you have identified. The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk however you are required to protect people as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’. The strategies you put in place for minimising the risk are called controls.
How do I complete a risk assessment?
Overall there are five key stages to completing a risk assessment:
Who should carry out the risk assessment?
The law says that a ‘competent person’ should carry out the assessment. The best person to do the risk assessment is therefore you because you have:
- knowledge of the work involved through personal experience
- the skills to carry out a risk assessment
- knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health and safety
- knowledge of your own limitations.
The most important ingredient for putting together a good risk assessment is common sense.
One of your other PAs may also be a ‘competent person’ provided they have been suitably trained and given adequate time and resources to carry out the assessment.
Once you have completed your risk assessment
You must be able to demonstrate that your risk assessment is ‘suitable and sufficient’. In order to do this you must be able to show that:
- a proper check of your home and other places PAs work for you (‘the work place’) was made
- all significant hazards were examined
- all individuals who might be affected by the hazards were identified e.g. your PA’s & visitors to your home
- the controls proposed (ways of minimising the risk) are reasonable and the remaining risks are low
- the risk assessment will be valid for a reasonable amount of time.
You must tell all your PA’s about the risks to their health and safety identified in the risk assessment and the measures you have put in place to control these risks. In addition you need to tell them about the procedures to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger e.g. a fire.
If you employ a person who is under school leaving age (under 16) you must inform their parent/guardian of the results of the risk assessment before they start work for you. You will also need to provide a copy to the Local Authority if you are seeking a work permit for them.
You must keep your risk assessment up to date. The law says you must review it at least annually and more often if there are changes to your workplace.
Completing the risk assessment step-by-step
Section one – fitting the job to the person
You must complete a risk assessment for each PA who works for you. This is called personalising the risk assessment. However you do not need to complete the whole of the risk assessment template each time, you just need to complete section one: fitting the job to the person for each individual PA.
Personalising the risk assessment in this way ensures that you are considering how the job can be adapted to fit the specific needs of the person doing the job. It takes into account their personal characteristics and helps you to plan how they personally can do the job safely.
Some groups of workers have specific requirements because they are more vulnerable either because of a lack of experience or their physical condition or both. You must carry out specific risk assessments for these workers. These groups are:
New and expectant mothers
If your PA is a new or expectant mother you can use employer template 4.2(b) Risk assessment for new and expectant mothers to complete the additional specific risk assessment if you wish.
If your PA is under 18 you can use employer template 4.2(c) Employing children and young people to complete the additional specific risk assessment if you wish.
Workers with disabilities & Migrant workers
If you employ a PA who falls into one of these groups you can consult Independent Lives for further advice or access advice from the Health and Safety Executive’s website at www.hse.gov.uk.
Section two – manual handling
Perhaps the most frequent health and safety issue for employers of PAs is ensuring safe manual handling, lifting, moving and back care.
Manual handling can refer to:
- moving and handling a person (e.g. from their bed to their wheelchair); or
- moving an object (e.g. the sofa, when vacuuming).
Injuries to the back, shoulders, neck, hands, arms and feet mostly result from moving heavy or awkward loads, restricted space, carrying loads up and down stairs and awkward movements such as reaching, stooping and twisting.
There are three key things to think about here. They are:
- The task and the load
Does the task involve:
- holding the load away from the body?
- twisting and / or stooping?
- excessive lifting / lowering or carrying over distances?
- excessive pushing or pulling?
- likelihood of sudden movement (unpredictability of your/clients movement)?
- frequent or prolonged physical effort?
- inadequate rest or recovery periods?
- handling whilst seated?
- awkward posture, hand/limb position, grip?
- work that is fatiguing or strenuous.
You should then think about ways to control the risk. For example:
- can mechanical equipment e.g. a hoist take some of the strain?
- is the load heavy? Can the weight be reduced (e.g. by dividing the load up into smaller loads)?
- could handles, wheels or castors help reduce the load?
- can the task be automated or mechanised?
- can the load be team-handled instead of by one person?
- The working environment
- space constraints? You should make sure there is enough room for the PA to move freely in a good posture
- uneven, slippery or unstable floors?
- varied floor levels or surfaces (steps or slopes)? You should make sure all equipment is at a convenient height and that where possible surface levels are equal to save unnecessary lifting
- poor lighting conditions, especially around staircases?
- high noise levels?
- The physical capability of your PA
Overall you should think about whether it is reasonable to ask the particular PA to lift the weight.
Does the manual handling task:
- require particular strength or height?
- require special knowledge e.g. extra training?
- pose a risk to pregnant employees or those with particular health problems?
You should also consider:
- the PAs attitude to safe handling/working with others
- whether the worker suffers from stress/poor job satisfaction.
In the risk assessment it is advisable to state that wherever equipment is available to assist with manual handling (e.g. a hoist) it should be used. You should ensure that your PA is fully trained in how to use this equipment.
If you feel that equipment would help, and you do not already have it in place you should contact your social worker to discuss this.
You should train your PA in safe methods for manual handling so that they can avoid injury. The following key points may be helpful when doing this.
Tips for safe manual handling
Keep the load close to the waist
Keep the load close to the body for as long as possible while lifting. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body. If a close approach to the load is not possible, try to slide it towards the body before attempting to lift it.
Adopt a stable position
The feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load if it is on the ground). The worker should be prepared to move their feet during the lift to maintain their stability.
Start in a good posture
At the start of the lift, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees (squatting).
Don’t flex the back any further while lifting. This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.
Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent
Shoulders should be kept level and facing in the same direction as the hips.
Turning by moving the feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.
Keep the head up when handling
Look ahead, not down at the load once it has been held securely.
The load should not be jerked or snatched as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.
Start in a good posture
Don’t lift or handle more than can be easily managed
There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If in doubt, seek advice or get help.
Put down, and then adjust
If precise positioning of the load is necessary, put it down first, and then slide it into the desired position.
Other sections of the risk assessment
Some sections of the risk assessment may or may not be applicable to your particular workplace. These include:
- Food hygiene
- Chemical safety
- Administrative tasks
- Out and about.
You only need to complete these sections if they apply to your PA’s job.
For example if your PA prepares food for you, you will need to complete the food hygiene section. If your PA drives you to appointments you will need to complete the driving section and so on.
Tips for ensuring the health and safety of your PAs
- Complete the risk assessment. This is a legal obligation
- Make sure that your home is properly ventilated, with clean and fresh air
- Keep temperatures in your home at a comfortable level
- If your PAs are working in the kitchen you may wish to purchase a fire blanket
- Light your home so that employees can work and move about safely
- Keep the workplace and equipment clean and in good working order
- Ensure that work spaces are big enough to allow easy movement and remove clutter
- Make floors, walkways, stairs etc. safe to use by removing obstructions and slip hazards
- Protect people from falling from heights
- Store things securely so they are unlikely to fall and cause injuries.
- Fit windows that can open, and fit doors and gates with safety devices if needed
- Provide suitable washing facilities and clean drinking water
- Make sure your PA’s take appropriate rest breaks and their correct holiday entitlement. Over tired and stressed workers are much more likely to have accidents or become ill.
Checklist – before your PA starts work
- Take out employer’s liability insurance
- Complete a risk assessment
- Purchase any additional equipment you need to make the workplace safe e.g. a fire blanket
- Purchase a first aid kit
4.3 Reporting accidents and serious injuries in the workplace
Your PA’s must report it to you if they have an accident or near miss.
When they report an accident or a near miss you must keep certain records and also review your risk assessment to see whether you need to put any additional control measures in place.
If you wish you can use employer template 4.2(d) Accident record to help you do this. You must keep these records for at least three years.
In addition, certain types of incidents, injuries and diseases need to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive’s Incident Contact Centre. These include:
- Specified injuries to workers-e.g., fractures, crush injuries etc. see link on HSE website for full list: https://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/specified-injuries.htm
- Over a seven day injury (An over seven day injury is one that is not major, but results in the injured person being away from work and unable to do their full range of normal duties for more than three days. These must be reported within 15 days of the accident occurring)
- Gas incidents
- Occupational diseases likely to have been caused or made worse by their work-e.g Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-see link on HSE website for full list: https://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/occupational-diseases.htm
- Non fatal accidents to non workers-e.g. members of the public, except when people are taken to hospital purely as a precaution when no injury is apparent
- Dangerous occurrences e.g. the accidental release of any substance which could cause injury to any person.
You can call the Incident Contact Centre on 0345 300 9923 (opening hours Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 5pm) or report the incident online at www.hse.gov.uk.