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    Quakers Hill Tragedy

    Molly Hickey - 24-Nov-2011

    As the death toll rises to 9 from last week’s fire in Quakers Hill questions are being asked as to what led to the horrific event. While the general public is demanding higher levels of police and criminal checks on employees, industry stakeholders are questioning if issues are occurring on a deeper level within facilities.  The Australian Aged Care Association has supported New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell’s announcement that he will call for a review of the aged care industry. While the investigation will focus on the adequacy of police checks and the safety of building structures, this terrible incident highlights the importance of having correct procedures and policies implemented in care facilities in our country (you can update your fire safety procedures with us here).  With the current skills shortage and fast tracking of Certificate III qualifications, is fire safety really the pressing issue that needs to be reviewed in the industry? 

    There is no argument that the tragedy that occurred on Friday should be investigated thoroughly to identify and amend any potential or re-occurring safety issues.  However one of the issues which should be addressed is how the mental health of care staff should be assessed and maintained in the care industry? Now, to many readers the answer is obvious but like any complex issue there are many implications involved in investigating employees mental health.  According to the Commonwealth Privacy Act (1999) it is a breach of the code to collect mental health information when engaging new employees.  Should these sorts of Acts be amended to prevent tragic events like Quakers Hill or do people who suffer from mental health issues deserve the right to conceal their illness?

    Currently in Australia, 1 in 5 people have or will suffer from a mental illness at some stage in their life, with larger proportions of sufferers aged between 18-24.  When considering employment should employers make decisions based only on certain mental health issues according to the level of severity or type of mental illness?  Unfairly, mental health also has a stigma attached that can follow the sufferer and affect their work performance.

    Also, what of those who practice recreational drug use or substance abuse? Should this also be tested and screened in the induction process of a new employee in the care sector? This test practice occurs within the mining industry & Defence Force. Should workers also be compulsory tested in the care sector?

    Earlier this year the Productivity Commission completed research on the Aged Care industry and identified several issues affecting the sector, while the mental health of patients was included, mental health of staff was omitted.  Drug & substance abuse amongst staff was also absent.

    What are your thoughts on this important issue? Comment below to get  your opinions heard.


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