Despite the wide range of hazards present and the diverse nature of the people who work in or visit doctor’s surgeries, they are, thankfully, very rarely the source of work-related accidents and incidents.

The hazards faced by people working at or visiting a surgery include generic risks such as steps and stairs, slip and trip hazards, electrical issues, transport issues (car parks), fire matters and chemicals used for cleaning. There are also specific hazards which include the biological hazards from blood, tissue, body fluids and infectious agents, the use of sharps – needles, scalpels, blades etc, drugs and medicines and possibly the use of special equipment such as x-ray units, laser treatment devices and others.

Controlling these hazards is complicated due to the range of people exposed to them; from new born babies to the handicapped, the elderly, the ill and from consultant physician to administrators and cleaners. The premises are also open in all weathers often from early in the morning through to late evening.

As the duty of care to patients is at the centre of health and safety considerations, the potential for harm is recognised in most aspects of surgery life. Specific official advice in respect of medical standards and safety is taken into account. This leads to the recognition of the other hazards and risks which sets up the arrangements required for their management and control. Generally, a common sense approach is taken and suitable controls are built into day to day operating procedures and practices.

However, experience shows that the assessments of risk and the arrangements adopted are not always recorded systematically or maintained after their initial consideration. For example, when cleaning staff change, the new cleaners do not get adequate instruction about biological hazards or the hazards of the stronger than normal cleaning chemicals in use. When visiting staff change, their replacements do not get a full briefing on the surgery’s policies and procedures. Similarly, responsibility for maintaining outside steps or clearing pathways in the ice and snow may not be passed on or properly explained to new workers.

Often these failures don’t show themselves until there is an injury or a claim for compensation. Unless the surgery has a system that records the procedures and has evidence to demonstrate their active use, and importantly that they are monitored and reviewed, it will be difficult to prove, in law, that all necessary and sensible steps had been taken to manage health and safety.

For further advice on this topic please contact your Health and Safety Consultant or our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2785.