Workplace safety for Australian Speech Pathologists in private practice: 8 things you can do this week to make your clinics safer for everyone

We all want our staff to be safe at work. And most practice owners I know do a lot of work to ensure staff are safe, including employees, contractors and sub-contractors, labour hire employees, students and other volunteers.

But we can always do better!

Workplace safety laws are numerous and complex, and it’s not surprising that some private practice owners are unsure about even some of their most basic legal obligations. But – as lawyers love to say – ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Private practice owners should of course seek detailed legal advice about their workplace safety legal obligations. But, to help fellow private practice owners in Australia, we thought it would be useful to provide some practical tips about things you can do quickly to improve workplace safety (and work safety law compliance) at your clinic:

  1. Read the regulators’ fact sheets. If you don’t know the “who, what, when, where, and why” of workplace safety laws or even what “PCBU”* means, schedule and spend exactly one hour reading the fact sheets from SafeWork Australia and your State workplace safety regulator, e.g. SafeWork NSW. Even if you think you are up-to-speed, you’re almost guaranteed to learn something new – and to spot gaps in your current practices.
  1. Display the mandatory “Medical Emergency Plan” poster in your clinic. You can access the NSW version here.
Medical Emergency Plan
  1. Put up the “If you get injured at work” poster. This is also mandatory. Display the poster prominently at work. You can download the NSW version here.
  1. Create/revise an Injury Register: If you don’t have one (and you are required to!), create a simple injury register to keep records of injuries that occur at work. Courtesy of WorkSafe Victoria, here’s a good template here.
  1. Double-check your workers compensation arrangements: Details vary State by State, but most private practices (and almost all private practices in NSW) are required to take out workers compensation insurance. In NSW, for example, we buy insurance from a public financial corporation set up by the NSW Government called icare. You can read more about it here.
  1. Implement an infection control procedure. In NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, Speech Pathologists (as unregistered health practitioners) are required to have infection control procedures. In other States and Territories, it’s probably required anyway under workplace safety laws. You can write your own. Here’s an inexpensive template tailored for speech pathologists, based on the one we use in our practice.
  1. Revise your emergency and first aid plans. Both written plans are legally required in all States:
  • for emergency plans, there’s a useful checklist from SafeWork Australia here.
  • for first aid requirements (e.g. including to have trained first aid providers and first aid kits), check out information from SafeWork Australia here.
  1. Hold a dedicated workplace safety staff meeting. Set up a meeting with all your staff to discuss all the topics above, and workplace safety more generally. Consult with staff about safety in your clinic. Use the opportunity to explain your legal obligations. Also train/remind staff about their obligations to:
  • take reasonable care of themselves;
  • not do anything that would affect the health and safety of others at work;
  • follow your reasonable health and safety instructions, including to:
    • work safely;
    • follow instructions;
    • ask you if unsure about how to perform work safely (especially in higher risk areas like dysphagia treatments and when conducting oro-motor assessments); and
    • report injuries and unsafe and unhealthy situations to you and the health and safety representative at your work.

Of course, there are a lot of other things you need to do to comply with workplace safety laws – we’ve only touched on some of the basics. But doing these 8 things as soon as possible will at least get you started as you strive to make your workplace safer for everyone!

Key sources:

* PCBU stands for “Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking”. If you own a private practice business, that’s you!

Image: https://tinyurl.com/yckprbvt

Speechies in Business Speechies in Business
Speechies in Business is owned and operated by David Kinnane, a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist, lawyer, writer and speaker in private practice in Sydney, Australia. You can read more about David’s professional background, qualifications and experience here. David also co-owns and co-manages Banter Speech & Language, an independent private speech pathology clinic, and Bodkin Wood Legal & Advisory, a law firm specialising in allied health issues. David sits on Speech Pathology Australia’s Ethics Board and Professional Standards Advisory Committee.
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