Risk Assessments in Aged Care

Risk assessments are probably already part of your life. In fact, we take risks in our personal and professional lives every day without thinking about them. We put our seat belt on before we drive our car to reduce the risk of injury if we have an accident. We don’t leave seafood out of the fridge on a hot summer’s day as we could get food poisoning. We put floor signs on our wet floors at work so that someone doesn’t slip on them and injure themselves. And while we cannot stop all risks, we can assess the likelihood of them occurring and reduce the potential negative impacts.

Risk assessments are an important part of keeping ourselves and the people around us safe. This means at home AND in the workplace, especially if you work in healthcare. But while staff may be aware of the obvious risks, are they aware of the risk assessment process? Can they apply that critical thinking and assessment to new situations? The Joint Commission states that, “Risk assessment is one of the cornerstones of infection prevention and control…”, meaning that risk assessments should be part of your IPAC strategy. The table below outlines the risk assessment process:

  1. ESTABLISH THE CONTEXT
  2. IDENTIFY INFECTION RISKS
  3. ASSESS THE RISK OF INFECTION
  4. CONTROL THE RISK OF INFECTION
  5. REVIEW EFFECTIVENESS OF CONTROL MEASURES

Healthcare workers need to be provided with training to be able to understand, and be confident in, working through this system of risk assessment. There are many guidelines, manuals and resources that all speak to risk assessment as the basis for preventing and controlling the spread of infections. These include those produced by the National Medical and Research Health Council, the Clinical Excellence Commission and the various state Departments of Health.

How to perform risk assessments

Let us have a look at an example of a common task performed in healthcare settings using this risk assessment and management approach.

  1. ESTABLISH THE CONTEXT

“What task or procedure is being performed?” Emptying a urinary catheter drainage bag

  1. IDENTIFY INFECTION RISKS

“Could worker be exposed to blood or body fluids?” Yes, urine

  1. ASSESS THE RISK OF INFECTION

“If so, how will this most likely occur?” Via contact (touching contaminated outlet clamp) and/or via droplet (urine could splash back when hitting the collection receptacle)

  1. CONTROL THE RISK OF INFECTION

“How can I best protect myself?” Perform hand hygiene and wear gloves throughout the procedure. Ensure measuring or collection receptacle is clean and hold it close to the drainage bag outlet to minimise splashing, taking care not to have the tubing touch the inside of the receptacle. Clean the outlet tubing with an antiseptic wipe before and after the procedure. Empty and clean the collection receptacle, remove gloves and perform hand hygiene.

  1. REVIEW EFFECTIVENESS OF CONTROL MEASURES

“How do I know the protective actions taken are effective?” There has been no exposure to urine through splashing onto the body of the worker, the tubing did not touch the receptacle, nor the ground, and no urinary tract infection has been reported for that patient.

Risk assessments allow us to identify infection risks in aged care facilities. By knowing what the infection risks are to our patients/residents and staff, workers can take appropriate steps to control those risks and protect themselves and others. And, by knowing the risk assessment process, staff can think each potentially risky situation through on a case-by-case basis. It’s a powerful tool for avoiding infections, as well as potential injuries, in the workplace.

If you’re struggling to manage infection risks in your facility, read our blog article on creating an infection-free facility in 2020. Alternatively, if you’d like help with managing infection control in your facility, or support for your new IPC leads, contact us and see what we can do for you.