Home Healthcare: The Uncontrolled Environment

Home Healthcare Workers:  The Uncontrolled Variable in Your Health and Safety PlanThe American boomer population are seniors now, entering their 60s and 70s. This means a steady increase in the number of home healthcare workers that are needed to care for this aging segment of the population.

For caring people without computer skills and without the schooling necessary for office or factory employment, home health care is a boon. In exchange for providing household help and personal care, they have a steady job with high demand. But this has its drawbacks.

The Uncontrolled Variable

An individual’s home can’t be compared to an office environment, a factory floor or even a construction site. Officially called an “uncontrolled environment,” it is not subject to a normal workplace health and safety plan.

Imagine going to a relative’s home for dinner. You may trip over the dog and bump against tables that are in the pathway to the dining-room table. This is fine for a visit. And it may not be appropriate to tell them to move their furnishings out of the way.50 things you must know about safety leadership

Now imagine this is where you put in your nine-to-five workday. The obstacle course takes on a whole new meaning.

And it’s not just the trip hazards that are a concern.

Home healthcare workers may face pathogens from blood if they help change bandages. They can suffer long-term pain from overuse injuries, from bending and hurting their back, from lifting their employer/patient. If there is a pet on the premises, they might suffer bites or injuries from clawing.  Further, the home might not be as hygienic as it could be.

In an uncontrolled environment, the things that can go wrong over the course of a day are unlimited.

What Can Be Done?

Advocates for home healthcare workers are trying to get labor laws in place to cover their jobs. They point out that the number of people affected is huge. Over four million people will be working in this field by 2018.

If the workers were doing exactly the same type of work in a nursing home, they would be covered. Since keeping an aging population out of nursing home and in their own homes saves taxpayer dollars, advocates insist that it is worthwhile to provide a safe and secure working environment for those that provide the care.

fctc-online-bannerMany workers are independent contractors who get jobs through home healthcare agencies that set rates and standards for the work they do in the home. Since they work independently and not in a group, they usually have few opportunities to connect with others doing the same type of job. This means they have almost no voice in their work conditions and the laws governing them.

In one recent move, a regulation has been enacted in the U.S. that has affected home healthcare workers in 29 states. They have become eligible for the federal minimum wage law, plus the right to overtime pay.

It’s not in the cards to have health and safety consultants assigned to each home, at least not in the foreseeable future. But these most recent guidelines could be the start of more help for healthcare workers who care for our aging generations in private homes.


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About the Author

safetyBUILT-IN is the safety-leadership learning and development division of SCInc. We believe sustainable safety performance is best achieved through a core-values based safety culture, and that culture must be driven by leadership. Our safety-leadership programs are competency-based, and focused on performance outcomes. We believe in building capability and ownership into our client organizations—as well as sustainability into our programs—so that our clients can continue running those programs long after we’re out of the picture. Our emphasis is on building better leadership presence, better leadership communication and better leadership coaching by first building relationships of trust with people and learning how to engage them on the level of their core values and beliefs.