It goes without saying that injuries occur in all workplaces, not just the community sector. Yet there are certain unexplained injuries within care environments that should receive particular attention.
We set out our top three 3 tips for investigators when confronted with an unexplained injury allegation in aged or disability care contexts.
1. Fully understand the care environment
Those charged with investigating claims of abuse by carers have a challenging task. Both circumstances and injuries can be ill-defined, with sometimes little to go on in terms of firm evidence. This is due primarily to the nature of childcare and other care environments – vulnerable people often have difficulty explaining that workplace violence has occurred.
Patients can be in a frail or vulnerable state for example, with high dependency on assistance with personal care. Bathing, dressing and feeding in sometimes tight spaces with over-worked staff can lead to a number of unintended injuries for both carers and patients alike. The complexities are substantial. However, the need to fully understand when an injury is a reportable incident under new legislation is vital.
Clients and family members might point to an unexplained injury and assume that the care environment is to blame. Yet investigators should assume nothing as they take careful stock of the facilities, mechanisms and personnel involved in that particular care arrangement.
2. Investigate fairly through emotional terrain
Good investigators know to treat everyone equally during workplace investigations. We maintain a professional demeanour and ensure that all relevant people are heard. Yet communication by investigators in the aged and disability care can require a unique approach to objectivity.
Clients or family members in these environments can express shock, outrage and complete certainty when it comes to the investigation of an unexplained injury. And investigators themselves might be emotionally swayed when faced with allegations of child abuse, elder abuse or disability abuse.
However, an unexplained injury is exactly that – unexplained. Taking into account the communication needs of the client, the tangle of information supplied by families, plus available documentation at the workplace, it is critical to refrain from drawing any inferences throughout the investigation.
3. Communicate appropriately when needs are unique
We need to take into account the particular communication needs of those vulnerable individuals claiming elder abuse, child abuse or disability abuse by a carer. For example, specific communication technologies, scribing assistance, emotional support and/ or advocacy services might form an integral part of investigations into unexplained injuries.
It is essential to understand the nature of the assistance and make objective determinations around interviewing methods. Questions might include: is the scribe or support person related to the injured client? Does the client appear both willing and able to engage with the interviewer? Is there any visible fear, withdrawal or discomfort?
As a corollary, it is vital to avoid any dismissive or patronising communication techniques when interviewing the person in aged, child or disability contexts. We should never assume that they cannot or won’t communicate – particularly if someone else in the room tells us this! As well as having to sport an unexplained injury, it would be disappointing indeed if the injured party leaves an interview feeling ignored, pressured or misunderstood.
THE UNEXPLAINED INJURY – TAKING CARE
Workplace investigators must be extremely careful not to jump to any conclusions when an unexplained injury arises in aged or disability contexts. Keep in mind our three top tips on understanding, fairness and communication in care environments. This will help you to create and manage the best possible workplace investigation. After all, Australians are known for looking after each other well, and a good investigation can ensure that unexplained injuries in the caring sector are dealt with fairly at every turn.
Our upcoming must-do 2017 investigation training will give you the best possible tools for tackling unexplained injuries in aged and disability care. Join us there, or get in touch to access our top-selling Workplace Investigation Toolkit, plus other professional resources to assist your investigations.
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