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Standards for general practices

Core module

Criterion C3.5 – Work health and safety

        1. Criterion C3.5 – Work health and safety

Last revised: 24 Feb 2023


C3.5 A Our practice supports the safety, health, and wellbeing of the practice team.

C3.5 B Our practice team is encouraged to obtain immunisations recommended by the current edition of the Australian immunisation handbook based on their duties and immunisation status.

Why this is important

Each practice owner/manager is responsible for providing a safe working environment. This includes being genuinely committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of the whole practice team. The practice owner/manager is obliged to meet their responsibilities as an employer by adhering to relevant federal and state/territory workplace health and safety (WHS) laws.

Inappropriate and disruptive behaviour within the clinical team can risk patient safety. Although such behaviour might not be an obvious WHS or bullying issue, it can undermine both the culture of the setting and clinical care.18–20

You are to encourage members of the practice team to be immunised, in order to protect the team from being infected with vaccine-preventable infectious diseases and from transmitting such infections to patients. The exact immunisation requirements will depend on the risk of infection based on the practice’s location, patient population and each practice team member’s duties.

Meeting this Criterion

Safety of your practice team

Having an adequate number of practice team members on duty, based on the size of your practice during normal practice hours, contributes to the safety and wellbeing of the practice team. In addition, it means that telephone calls can be answered promptly, appointments made accurately and according to urgency, and medical emergencies can be managed appropriately.

When operating outside normal opening hours, there are additional factors to consider to protect the safety and security of team members, especially if they are on their own. For example:

  • Is there sufficient lighting in the car park?
  • Who must be contacted in case of an emergency?
  • Is a duress alarm required?
  • Are safety cameras needed?

It is important that the layout of the facility complies with WHS requirements, and that individual desks are configured so that practice team members have the full range of movement required to do their job, and can move without strain or injury. One way to do this is to have a professional conduct an ergonomic assessment of each desk and workspace.

Health and wellbeing of your practice team

You can support the health and wellbeing of the practice team in many ways. For example:

  • regular breaks for practitioners during consulting time can reduce fatigue as well as enhance the quality of patient care. Fatigue and related factors (sometimes called ‘human factors’) are associated with increased risk of harm to patients
  • a plan for re-allocating patient appointments if a practitioner is unexpectedly absent from the practice can reduce the burden on the other practitioners
  • making information about support services available to the practice team can help them identify and deal with pressures and stressors. This is particularly important in rural and remote areas and in small practices
  • provide flexible work arrangements to staff who might be impacted by a crisis, emergency or disaster, where possible.

Supporting staff in emergencies or after traumatic events

GPs and other health professionals play a pivotal role in caring for and supporting those affected by natural disasters and other emergencies. Medical emergencies sometimes occur within the practice, and the impact of these on your staff needs to be considered.

Some emergencies see a large influx of patients requiring assistance within short timeframes, and medical emergencies can impact anyone who has assisted with patient care. These emergency events can have a significant impact on individuals in the practice team, and the practice. It is important that after any emergency event that results in significant trauma to staff, your practice team comes together to debrief about the impact. This could be by using an employee assistance program or a specialist mental health practitioner. This might also include obtaining additional support to look after the health and wellbeing of your practice team.

It’s important that you consider the ways in which you can support all aspects of the practice team members’ health and wellbeing.

Dealing with violence

Patient aggression and patient-initiated violence in healthcare settings continue to be an issue. Your risk management strategy (refer to Criterion C3.1 – Business operation systems) could include patient-initiated violence so that you consider the risk and ways to mitigate the risk. Typically, such strategies include:

  • a zero tolerance policy towards violence
  • displaying signs that inform people of your zero tolerance policy
  • installing a duress alarm system that the practice team can use if a patient is threatening or violent, and establishing a response plan in case the alarm is triggered
  • setting out clear steps to take when dealing with violence, including contacting the police if necessary.

A practitioner has the right to discontinue the care of a patient who has behaved in a violent or threatening manner (except in an emergency). This includes the practitioner ending the professional relationship during a consultation or by letter or telephone, depending on safety considerations. Keep a record of the process, and of any subsequent contact that the patient has with the practice.

Practice team immunisation

Refer to the Australian immunisation handbook to identify recommended vaccinations for healthcare workers. Offer and encourage practitioners and other members of the practice team to have:

  • immunisations recommended by the current edition of the Australian immunisation handbook
  • testing of their natural immunity to vaccine-preventable disease or immunisation status.

These services can be undertaken by the practice if appropriate, or the practice team member’s own GP.

Consider the wellbeing of practice team members who are not immunised if there is an outbreak of disease. For example, during a disease outbreak, you could suspend non-immunised team members to reduce the likelihood of them contracting the disease. This would also help prevent transmission of the disease to patients who cannot be immunised for medical reasons.

Meeting each Indicator

C3.5 A Our practice supports the safety, health, and wellbeing of the practice team.

You must:

  • include work health and safety requirements when inducting new employees.

You could:

  • maintain a WHS policy and procedure
  • maintain a policy and procedure manual that includes WHS requirements
  • develop and adhere to appropriate practice staff rosters
  • include WHS as a standing agenda item on team meetings
  • maintain an appointment book that shows scheduled breaks
  • create appropriate design and layouts for the practice’s building, workstations and desks
  • provide the practice team with access to support services.

C3.5 B Our practice team is encouraged to obtain immunisations recommended by the current edition of the Australian immunisation handbook based on their duties and immunisation status.

You must:

  • record the natural immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases or immunisation status of practice team members if known (with their consent)
  • offer staff members’ immunisations recommended in the Australian immunisation handbook, as appropriate to their duties.

You could:

  • offer the practice team testing of their natural immunity to vaccine-preventable disease or immunisation status.