Service users at a Bristol care home had to be confined to their rooms for several hours last week after a toxic gas was accidentally released by staff.
Avon Fire and Rescue were called to the home shortly before 11pm when staff reported feeling unwell and discovered that a staff member had mixed together two cleaning chemicals leading to the toxic substance spreading throughout the home. Two staff required hospital admission for breathing difficulties, but residents were unaffected as a result of the emergency services’ prompt action in dispersing the gas.
Potentially life-threatening events like this demonstrate the importance of ensuring that all staff are aware of the risks posed by everyday cleaning products used in care homes. Although substances may seem safe and are used routinely without any concerns being raised, mixing them together or using them for anything other than their intended purpose can lead to serious consequences.
Read on to learn more about the steps you should take to prevent a high-risk incident like this occurring within your own service.
Health and Safety: COSHH
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (commonly known as COSHH) employers are required to prevent or reduce exposure to substances hazardous to their health.
Substances covered by COSHH include chemicals, fumes, dusts and gases, all of which are likely to be present within your service. Ensuring every member of staff is COSHH aware is essential to the safety of everyone living and working in your care home.
4 Steps to Improve COSHH Awareness amongst Your Team
- Operate mandatory COSHH training: COSHH training must be compulsory for every staff member (including volunteers) in order to reduce risks to an acceptable level. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link so ensure that all staff receive this training during their induction period and particularly before working with any potentially hazardous substances.
- Make your COSHH safety data sheets easily available: COSHH safety data sheets provide you with essential information on chemical products that will help in making a risk assessment. They describe the hazards the chemical presents, and give information on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of accident. Your staff should know the whereabouts of these sheets and how to access them if required.
- Share your COSHH risk assessments: The information included on COSHH safety data sheets will be used to develop your COSHH risk assessments which should be known to all staff. Rather than simply keeping these documents on a central file, ensure that they are working documents used by all staff. For example, copies can be stored on cleaning trolleys, in sluice rooms and in store cupboards so that staff can refer to them before using products.
- Learn from incidents and near misses: One of the most effective ways of embedding knowledge is by sharing real life incidents and near misses. Staff can sometimes become complacent, particularly if you have a good safety record but sharing incidents where accidents could have happened e.g. an unattended cleaning trolley left in a resident area or a cleaning chemical left in a bathroom can help to raise awareness of potentially dangerous situations. Equally, sharing news stories such as the toxic gas escape in the Bristol care home will highlight just how quickly a lack of knowledge or training can lead to a serious incident.
Are you aware of all the potential risks to service users and employees in your care home? Read Care Quality Matters for the latest advice and practical tips for Registered Managers in care homes and domiciliary care.