Workplace safety and security should be a given but as we all know this is not always the case. All nurses and midwives have the right to work in a safe and healthy workplace environment and to perform their work without risks to their physical and psychological health and safety (ANMF policy statement 2015). None of us should have to work in fear for our personal safety.
In South Australia earlier last year, remote area nurse Gayle Woodford, was tragically killed while working. With continuing reports of assaults on nurses in the months that followed, the ANMF accepted the invitation from CRANAplus to participate on the Expert Advisory Group for their Remote Area Workforce Safety and Security Project.
Given the ongoing concerns about safety and security for those working in remote areas the ANMF is committed to ensuring safer workplaces for all those in isolated practice.
The 12 month project, led by CRANAplus, is a Commonwealth Department of Health funded initiative, which commenced last June.
Work on the project commenced with a literature review on the safety and security of the remote health workforce, and engagement in a national conversation using forums, interviews and a survey, on the issues facing our colleagues working in remote.
Consequently, resources to be developed during the year-long project include: practical national safety and security guidelines for remote health, an industry handbook on ‘working safe in remote health’, an easy to use safety and security self-assessment tool, and a free online learning module on working safe in remote practice. This information will be included on the CRANAplus remote health smart device App that is currently under development. We are now more than half way through the project, with some of the first deliverables to be released early in the New Year.
Although workplace safety is always high on our agenda, and the issue of violence against remote health workers is not new, the tragic event of Gayle’s death has certainly placed a spotlight on safety and security, prompting more action in this space. The Northern Territory has taken the lead, producing two reports in the latter part of 2016.
ANMF Northern Territory (NT Branch) conducted a Remote Area Nurse (RAN) safety survey in May 2016, available at: www.anmfnt.org.au. The Branch believed it was important to get their RAN members’ perspective on how safe they felt working in remote communities and what they believed was needed to address the lack of safety, where it occurred. With 103 respondents (61.68% response rate), the survey asked questions about call out, accommodation, the work environment, fatigue management, and violence – both physical and verbal.
Respondents provided suggestions on how they could feel safer when on call and how to make their experience in remote areas safer.
The extensive list of suggestions included:
- reliable communication technology;
- duress alarms;
- accompaniment by a second responder;
- local community drivers;
- support from management;
- functioning equipment;
- electronic monitoring/tracking;
- security staff and
- better lighting and further education for all, just to name a few.
A major theme from the responses was the importance of whole of system support for a culture of safety. Many respondents felt unsupported and that their concerns went unheard. Following this survey in early December, the NT Department of Health released their report on Remote Area Nurse Safety: www.health.nt.gov.au/nursing_and_midwifery/
The Review, examined the policies, practices and procedures relating to remote staff safety in the NT. Four incidents of violence towards remote health staff occurred during the review, further highlighting the pressing need to make safety and security a priority. The NT government has committed to implementing all 14 recommendations outlined in the report, with some recommendations already in train. Future work will include focussing on consistency and standardisation of policy and practice across the NT health system.
This is a great outcome for the NT but there’s still much to do for safe practice, both in the territory, and in all areas of remote and isolated practice across the country.
The ANMF continues to work with CRANAplus and other key stakeholders on the Australian Government funded Safety and Security Project, to develop the planned resources to assist all those in remote practice. We’ll keep you posted on progress and let you know when and how you can provide feedback.
In any environment the first thing we should all consider, before we provide care, is risk to ourselves. We can’t help others if we are placing ourselves in danger. It’s a basic premise of all that we do. Clinicians and their managers must work together to identify and manage risks to safety and security for a safer environment for us all. It’s for everyone’s benefit so it’s everyone’s business.
Julianne Bryce, Elizabeth Foley and Julie Reeves
Federal Professional Officers