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Domestic tasks in home care

The following information is mainly aimed at PCBUs and workers in home-based care. However, PCBUs and workers within nursing homes, hospitals or other care organisations may also find this information useful.

People receiving home care services are diverse and have specific needs. The processes for managing work health and safety in these environments provide the foundation for safe practices, but they must also be able to adapt to the individual circumstances of the client. These processes and practices must also respect the dignity, privacy and independence of clients.

PCBU responsibilities

When workers are working in a private home, the home is considered a workplace, and therefore the usual work health and safety obligations for workers and PCBUs apply.

If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the hazards associated with the health and safety of your workers by providing:

  • a safe working environment: for example, making sure the client’s home is free of slip and trip hazards and electrical hazards
  • safe systems of work: for example, developing and implementing (with your workers’ input) a specific safe work procedures for the cleaning tasks to be done. This should include identifying when two people are needed for tasks such as moving furniture, and how this team work is done safely. You must enforce these, and regularly review them to make sure they’re making a difference or if they need further improvements. You should also set out what work is not to be done by your workers; for example, not climbing on the roof to clean gutters
  • equipment in a safe condition: for example, making sure cleaning equipment (including power cords) is in safe working order; and withdrawing faulty equipment
  • information, instruction, training and supervision: for example, about the chemicals used in cleaning. Inductions are one way to cover this information
  • facilities: for example, mobile first aid kit/equipment in the worker’s vehicle, a mobile phone to make contact with base, and processes for check-ins, especially for workers in remote or isolated areas. Also, suitable non-slip footwear and protective equipment such as gloves for cleaning.

Your duty of care applies not just to your worker but to anyone else present in the client’s home when the worker is working.

Client’s responsibilities

When workers are working in a private home, the home is considered a workplace, and the client also has a duty of care under work health and safety laws.

Therefore the client must notify workers and the PCBU of any changes to their home, and any hazards associated with the house as soon as they become aware of them.

Worker’s responsibilities

You have a duty to take reasonable care for your health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your actions while at work.

Safety risks

Between 2015 and 2019, more than 450 carers of aged people and people with a disability were seriously injured at work in Tasmania, with the majority of these injuries occurring while working with clients in their homes.

65% of these injuries were musculoskeletal disorders which most commonly include traumatic joint/ligament and muscle/tendon injuries, and musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases.

Risks of performing domestic tasks

High risk tasks include cleaning and other tasks such as vacuuming, mopping and making beds. These tasks involved pushing, pulling, bending and lifting, which can cause muscle injury. Specific sources of risk include:

  • vacuum cleaners that are in poor working condition, difficult to empty, not suitable for the task (too heavy, wand not height adjustable)
  • floor surfaces that make it difficult to push and pull the vacuum cleaner (such as thick pile carpet)
  • lifting the vacuum cleaner up stairs
  • insufficient time to complete the task
  • performing the same or similar movement repeatedly: for example, vacuuming, mopping and sweeping
  • moving furniture and rugs in preparation
  • storing vacuum cleaners, mops and buckets in an inaccessible or inappropriate location
  • manually wringing the mop head
  • lifting heavy buckets of water
  • wet and slippery floors
  • making beds of a low height
  • cleaning that involves reaching or bending below the knees or above the shoulders.

Risk assessment

You should consider the issues listed above during your initial assessment of the client’s needs. If they pose a risk, you must put control measures in place before your workers makes their first visit to the client.

You should do a risk assessment of the client’s home and the tasks your worker will do there. Take into account the level of support the person requires. Any risks should be addressed to support both the client and your worker.

You must also consult with your workers and their health and safety representatives as you do your risk assessment.

Cleaning equipment

Make sure vacuum cleaners:

  • are maintained in safe working order
  • are suitable for the task and floor surfaces, have appropriate and easy to change fittings, and are lightweight and easy to move
  • are readily available and easy for the worker to access
  • have an adjustable wand so the worker can work in an upright position.

Make sure mops:

  • are maintained in safe working order
  • are suitable for the task and floor surfaces, have appropriate and easy to change fittings, and are lightweight and easy to move
  • have telescopic handles
  • have an appropriate-sized mop head and when wet, is wrung in the bucket, not by hand.

Make sure buckets:

  • are lightweight
  • are the right shape for the mop head
  • have properly functioning plastic wringers or rollers
  • have a non-slip or grooved foot base to reduce slipping when wringing the mop
  • are only part or half filled with liquid, and are filled as close to the area to be mopped as possible.

Furniture, rugs and mats

  • Living spaces should be arranged so workers don’t have to move or lift heavy furniture or floor rugs to vacuum, mop or sweep; and so they can get access around at least three sides of the item of furniture.
  • Furniture may be fitted with lockable castors or glides to prevent lifting, as long as this doesn’t create additional risks to the client or worker.
  • If rugs or mats need to be moved to clean the floor, roll them away (don’t lift).

Other tasks

  • Avoid vacuuming stairs if it requires workers to repeatedly lift the vacuum cleaner; or use a lightweight stick vacuum cleaner instead.
  • Make sure workers have enough time to complete their tasks.
  • Workers should not perform tasks involving the same or similar movements — for example, vacuuming, mopping and sweeping — for more than 30 minutes. They should switch to other tasks that use different body movements; for example tidying, dusting, cleaning bathrooms or benchtops.
  • Provide workers with a non-slip mat if they need to get inside the bath or shower for cleaning.
  • Make sure two workers are available for heavy/awkward tasks such as turning mattresses.

Training and consultation

  • Provide workers with information, instruction and training on the client’s physical support needs and the control measures that will be implemented.
  • Develop safe work procedures and provide training in the safe use and storage of cleaning chemicals and provide up-to-date safety data sheets for each chemical.
  • Consult with workers and their health and safety representatives as you conduct risk assessments and develop safe work procedures.
  • Have a system for workers to report any changes or safety issues to you. Regularly ask your workers about their work environment, tasks or client’s needs. Address these matters as soon as possible.

Resources and solutions

Cleaners

Hazardous chemicals safety

Hazardous manual tasks

How to manage health and safety risks code of practice

Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice

Slips trips and falls

Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination code of practice

Updated: 20th February 2020