WHS Hazards and risks

There are a range of known hazards within the disability services sector which may impose a risk to employees and clients alike. To reduce the risk of injury employers are required to implement risk assessment and control systems within their workplace. There are a range of known control strategies for each of the hazards listed in the menu.

A hazard is anything with the potential to cause injury or property damage. A risk is the likelihood that such injury or damage will occur.

The model code of practice - how to manage health and safety risks lists four steps to good risk management:

  • identify hazards – find out what could cause harm
  • assess risks if necessary – understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening
  • control risks – implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances
  • review control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

Many hazards and their associated risks are well known and have well established and accepted control measures. In these situations, the second step to formally assess the risk is unnecessary. If, after identifying a hazard, you already know the risk and how to control it effectively, you may simply implement the controls. Workers should be consulted at each step of the process.

Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process that is triggered when any changes affect your work activities. You should work through the risk management steps when:

  • starting a new business or purchasing a business
  • changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
  • purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
  • planning to improve productivity or reduce costs
  • new information about workplace risks becomes available
  • responding to workplace incidents (even if they have caused no injury)
  • responding to concerns raised by workers, health and safety representatives or others at the workplace
  • required by the WHS regulations for specific hazards

It is also important to use the risk management approach when designing and planning products, processes or places used for work, because it is often easier and more effective to eliminate hazards before they are introduced into a workplace by incorporating safety features at the design stage.

Hazards generally arise from the following aspects of work and their interaction:

  • physical work environment
  • equipment, materials and substances used
  • work tasks and how they are performed
  • work design and management

Based on the nature of the work undertaken within disability service providers hazards can be encountered on a regular basis. A large number of these hazards are foreseeable and controls should be implemented. The level of risk associated with the hazard is influenced by a range of factors including the predictablity of the hazard and the frequency of exposure. Once controls are implemented some degree of risk may remain and a service provider needs to assess if this risk is acceptable given the goals of the program or service. For example walking with a client with some mobility problems will always have a level of risk even with a full assessment and appropriate training but is often essential to maintaining a level of independence and health and cannot be eliminated.

A range of known hazards have been identified through workers compensation data and benchmarking. Information and material has been developed to assist providers manage the risk associated with these hazards to the best of their ability. 

Known WHS hazards in the Disability Sector leading to the highest number of work incidents include:

Other potential hazards include:

Fire safety.

Fire safety is an WHS issue faced by the disability sector. The risk of fire safety for people with disabilities living in the community is outlined in the attached report.

Bush fire awareness is of importance and suitable procedures for communication and evacuation with alternate accommodation etc should be considered. A training program has been developed by the Bush Fire Service.

Guildelines for emergency evacuations and procedures have been developed.

Food safety

Food is handled by many disability support workers when providing services in accommodation services, respite, in-home support or on some community outings.  Safe food handling will protect the worker and service users from food borne illness.  Areas to consider include hand hygience, storage, preparation including the prevention of cross-contamination, cooking temperatures and cleaning.

Source: Safe Work Australia Code of Practice - How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks


The Industry Development Fund is delivered by National Disability Services on behalf of Family & Community Services: Ageing, Disability & Home Care.