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Health and safety for your practice team

Ensure staff understand and implement all the required policies, says Dr Ruth Chambers.

Your practice staff are required by law to complete certain statutory training each year. But many practices either ignore their legal requirements or do it in an ad hoc way.

The GP's responsibility

Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take reasonable measures to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work, including those with disabilities.

They also have a duty of care to visitors to their premises who are not their employees - patients, carers, visiting staff, sub-contractors and so on.

You must ensure that all staff are familiar with, understand and implement your health-and-safety policies.

You should cover health and safety in the induction training for all new members of staff, in an employee handbook, put posters up behind the scenes, give team briefings and arrange statutory and mandatory training updates.

Although, as employer, you have ultimate responsibility, everyone in the work place has some duty for safety through maintaining safe practices, assessing and reporting risks to safety.

Organisations with more than five members of staff (and that includes most practices) need to nominate and train a first aider - their certification needs renewing every three years.

There are six core elements to health and safety: regulations, risk assessment (including fire safety and VDU assessment), reporting accidents, handling hazardous substances, infection control and electrical testing.

What staff need to know

General health-and-safety training includes becoming familiar with, and being able to implement, the practice's policy. This should include the legal background, principles of risk assessment and risk management, accident and incident reporting and prevention, fire safety (both prevention and actions in case of an emergency), personal safety and lone working (dealing with violence and aggression). Infection control covers good hand- washing practice, universal precautions, protection against needlestick injuries and clinical waste management. Then there are the principles of safe lifting and manual handling, plus occupational health service availability and any environmental issues.

In addition, there will be health-and-safety issues that relate particularly to someone's role, such as VDU assessment, electrical equipment testing, security issues, radiation protection, and safe use of practice equipment, such as in the treatment room or cleaning equipment.

Training the team

New employees might attend a day's event that covers all these topics, perhaps organised by your PCT. You will then have to organise annual updating or whatever frequency seems appropriate for their particular role and responsibilities.

You might choose to get a local health-and-safety trainer along for your practice team - your PCT might recommend or supply such an officer.

A third alternative is to make an e-learning module available, with time for staff to access it on the practice computer (www.train4health.co.uk for free e-learning materials).

As attendance or participation in a lecture or e-learning module does not guarantee that anyone taking part has learned anything, you can ask staff to take a few test questions (see box for examples).

If the person being assessed answers any of the test questions incorrectly, further training will be necessary.

- Dr Chambers is a GP in North Staffordshire and professor of primary care development at Staffordshire University

HEALTH AND SAFETY SAMPLE TEST QUESTIONS

1. The temperature of the practice work place should be at least 16deg C - True/False

2. GPs who are self-employed are not covered by health-and-safety regulations - True/False

3. A practice nurse can automatically be designated as the nominated first aider by law - True/False

Answers: 1. True, 2. False, 3. False.

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