Report on homecare workers facing occupational hazards

4 December 2009

Research led by Philip Bohle, Professor of Work and Health at The University of Sydney has found that self-employed homecare workers face significant workplace hazards and have no industrial safety net despite their vital work with troubled youth, the disabled and the aged.

The report, commissioned by the Office of the Employee Ombudsman, raised key concerns of interviewees, including poor workplace risk assessment and hazard identification, emotional stress, poor industrial conditions and hollow workers' compensation provisions.

The report, The Occupational Health and Safety of Homecare Contract Workers in Adelaide and the Barossa Region, was prepared using information from male and female workers. They worked with troubled youth, people with disabilities (including autism) and the aged (including people with Alzheimer's and dementia). The study was undertaken by Professor Bohle and his team because of an escalating number of concerns raised with the Employee Ombudsman by people working as self-employed contractors.

"The occupational health and safety inspectorates, employers and industry associations have struggled to comprehend this category of worker," South Australian Employee Ombudsman Stephen Brennan said. "Our agency believes these workers require a forum that will permit their concerns to be articulated."

Many of the workers interviewed were unaware of their workers' compensation coverage and said they were expected to pay for their own training or risk losing work, while many said they could not afford to contribute to a superannuation scheme.

Issues raised in the research included:

  • Being exposed to volatile and dangerous work environments because of a lack of risk assessments, including one worker who spoke of caring for troubled youth clients in motels because the children were too violent to be placed in foster care;
  • High levels of emotional stress and a lack of debriefing opportunities. One worker spoke of arriving at a home to discover a client had fallen asleep with a cigarette and been badly burnt. Another spoke of finding a client who had tried to commit suicide; and
  • Opting not to report occupational safety issues for fear their clients might have their care service terminated.

The authors of the report state that an agency failing to undertake adequate risk assessment and hazard identification could be in breach of South Australia's OHS legislation.

"Recent court decisions make it clear that employers are required to take a proactive and systematic approach to managing hazards in their workplaces, whether they are homes, factories or shops," the report says.

The Office of the Employee Ombudsman was established in 1994 and advises employees on their rights and obligations under awards and enterprise agreements. As well as scrutinising enterprise agreements and representing employees in proceedings, it advises individual home-based workers who are not covered by awards or enterprise agreements. It also provides an advisory service on occupational health and safety issues.

Phone: 02 935