Safety in emergencies
When working with older people it is important that you are prepared for any emergency. This information will help you to be prepared so that you know what to do for safety in emergencies with the older people you care for. You can also find out about helping an older person to prepare for emergency exits from abusive situations at Seniors Rights Victoria
- What should I do in an emergency?
- What if I’m not sure it is an emergency?
- What if the older person doesn't want help in an emergency?
- When should I involve the Police and what can they do?
- Do I have to report cases of elder abuse?
- What can help improve the safety of someone at risk?
- What about my safety as a worker and that of other staff?
What should I do in an emergency?
Urgent action is required in an emergency. Call 000 without delay and ask for the appropriate emergency service/s (ambulance, police or fire).
In most cases the agency you work for will require you to act in accordance with agency policies and procedures regarding emergencies. You should be given information and the chance to become familiar with these.
Depending on the situation you may need to arrange the following for the older person and/or for their carer/s:
- Support (for example, ambulance services)
- Medical treatment
- Emergency accommodation
- Police involvement
- Other matters sensitive to cultural considerations such as religious beliefs.
If you believe the older person has lost decision making capacity about particular lifestyle, financial or medical issues, contact the Office of the Public Advocate for advice about how to proceed.
What if I’m not sure it is an emergency?
An emergency is when there is an immediate threat or risk of physical harm or serious damage to property. The threat or risk may be suspected or actual. If you are not sure, it is safest to treat it as an emergency.
What if the older person doesn't want help in an emergency?
Older people should be involved in making decisions about their life as much as possible, including in an emergency. However, if a worker decides that an older person is in imminent danger, they must act, even if this goes against the older person’s wishes. In other words, the worker has a ‘duty of care’ to act in emergency situations.
When should I involve the Police and what can they do?
Police should be involved in an emergency where there is an immediate risk of physical harm or serious damage to property. This includes the risk of harm to workers and others, as well as the older person.
As well as an emergency response, Police can also offer the following responses to elder abuse:
- To conduct regular “welfare checks”
- Apply on the older person’s behalf for a court document called an Intervention Order to protect the person from further abuse
- Victoria Police family violence advisors (FVA); family violence liaison officers (FVLOs) and family violence management officers (FVMO’s) can offer specialised advice.
In situations requiring Victoria Police intervention, it is preferable that the older person agree to the police being called.
People may have different responses to police interventions and so it is advisable to ensure that local police are adequately briefed on the elder abuse situation before conducting a welfare check or other intervention.
Police in Victoria are bound by a code of practice requiring they respond to reports of family violence, including elder abuse, seriously.
Do I have to report cases of elder abuse?
There is no legal requirement in Victoria (or anywhere in Australia) to report cases of elder abuse. Procedures such as mandatory reporting do not apply in the case of abuse of adults and are generally not supported by the Victorian Government, senior Victorians or industry stakeholders. The preferred approach is based on empowering older people, which is based on values such as self-determination, informed choice and the right of adults to make their own decisions.
About reporting of elder abuse see p 14 of Elder abuse prevention strategy workshop manual 1.
What can help improve the safety of someone at risk?
In-home services can play an important role in monitoring and supporting someone at risk of elder abuse. Aim to implement, maintain and increase such services wherever possible.
Safety concerns for staff sometimes cause agencies to withdraw services, which can result in further vulnerability and risk for an isolated older person. Consider alternative strategies to service withdrawal and to ensure staff safety. Any plans to discharge or reduce service provision should be discussed and carefully planned, preferably with all those involved.
Seniors Rights Victoria has produced a ‘Safety planning with older people’ Tip Sheet. It provides information for workers about promoting the health and wellbeing of older people by helping them make their own safety plan. A Plan For Your Safety Help Sheet is also available for older people.
What about my safety as a worker and that of other staff?
In most cases the agency you work for will require you to act in accordance with occupational health and safety policies and procedures. You should be given information and the chance to familiarise with this.
All staff involved should be made aware of any safety issues. This should include any food services staff (meals on wheels), personal care, allied health, community nursing or day program workers
Safety tips for workers:
- Don’t confront the abuser
- Always notify colleagues where you are going and when you expect to return
- Try to work in pairs
- Take your mobile phone
- Note the entry and exit points of the property and make sure you can always reach them.
- Park your car where it can’t be blocked in (not in the driveway).
Some content on this page has been drawn from With Respect to Age 2009 and Elder Abuse Prevention Strategy Workshop Manual 1.Back to Tool Kit