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Unreasonable use of force

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What is unreasonable use of force?

Unreasonable use of force is unwarranted or unjustified physical contact with a consumer that has the potential to cause harm. This could range from shoving or rough handling of a consumer to a deliberate and violent attack.

You must notify the Commission of any incident of unreasonable use of force that:

  • happens in connection with the care that your service provides
  • somebody has alleged happened in connection with care
  • you suspect may have happened in connection with care.

 

What is unreasonable use of force?

Unreasonable use of force is unwarranted or unjustified physical contact with a consumer that has the potential to cause harm. This could range from shoving or rough handling a consumer to a deliberate and violent attack.

You must notify the Commission of any incident of unreasonable use of force that:

  • happens at your service
  • somebody has alleged happened at your service
  • you suspect may have happened at your service.

 

Unreasonable use of force includes: 
  • physical behaviour towards a consumer that is an offence under the law of a state or territory
  • rough handling of a consumer while delivering care and services
  • actions like hitting, punching, pushing, shoving, kicking, spitting, throwing objects at a consumer or making threats of physical harm
  • deliberate attacks or assaults on a consumer
  • repeated minor incidents of non-consensual physical contact that have an impact on a consumer over time. 
Unreasonable use of force does not include:
  • gentle touching to get a consumer’s attention or to guide them
  • gentle touching to comfort a consumer if they are distressed
  • contact with a lawful justification, for example, pushing a consumer out of the way of an oncoming car
  • gently helping a consumer into a transport vehicle or helping to buckle their seatbelt
  • gentle guidance or support to consumers, for example, when walking at the shops. 
Unreasonable use of force does not include:
  • gentle touching to get a consumer’s attention or to guide them
  • gentle touching to comfort a consumer if they are distressed
  • accidental contact unless the contact is careless or negligent
  • contact with a lawful justification, for example, pushing a consumer out of the way of an oncoming car
  • reasonable management or care that complies with a relevant code of conduct
  • minor disagreements between consumers, for example, a consumer tapping another's hand in a disagreement over a card game
  • potential incidents, such as situations where a consumer is prevented from hitting another consumer. This type of incident should however be recorded in your IMS and noted in the behaviour support plan if the consumer has one.

Unreasonable use of force could be inflicted by anybody at your service, including workers, visitors, or other consumers.

Unreasonable use of force in connection with care 

You must manage and report all incidents (including alleged or suspected incidents) of unreasonable use of force in connection with care. 

Incidents that occur in connection with care and that have (or could reasonably have been expected to have) caused harm to a consumer or another person include incidents:

  • that occur while care and services are provided, 
  • that arise out of a failure to provide care and services,  
  • where the harm (or potential harm) is connected to care and services provided, even if the harm did not occur during delivery of service. 

Workers may also witness incidents of unreasonable use of force that is not connected with care. This may include acts committed by members of a consumer’s household or community who are not affiliated with you. While incident management and prevention requirements do not apply to these incidents, you still have a broader responsibility to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of consumers. You must take protective steps when you become aware of neglect or abuse (including suspected or alleged incidents) of consumers.

If an incident may be unlawful, such as a physical assault, or if there is any ongoing danger to any person, you should contact the police.

You should also support consumers dealing with elder abuse or other issues by connecting them to further assistance, such as:

  • OPAN website – the Older Persons Advocacy Network provides free, confidential, and independent support to older people seeking or receiving care and their families or representatives.
  • 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) – a free and confidential National Elder Abuse phone line.

 

Work tool

The SIRS Decision Support Tool can help you explore what kinds of incidents are unreasonable use of force. 

If an incident happens in connection with care, it can help you to decide whether it must be reported to the Commission, and if it is Priority 1 or Priority 2. 

Warning signs

Incidents of unreasonable use of force do not always leave visible signs like redness or bruising. They also do not always require medical treatment. There are other warning signs that might suggest that an incident has happened at your service that nobody has witnessed. These include when a consumer:

  • avoids certain activities, areas or people at your service
  • is unusually compliant
  • is frequently drowsy (this may be associated with a head injury) 
  • is unusually aggressive 
  • is unusually withdrawn, sad or emotional
  • has become distressed. 

You should always investigate or escalate to an appropriate person when there are changes in a consumer’s behaviour or when these warning signs are shown. 

Remember, if you suspect that a reportable incident has happened, you must notify the Commission. You should not wait for definitive proof.
 

Responding to unreasonable use of force

When an incident happens in connection with care, your first priority is always to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your consumer. 

With unreasonable use of force, this could mean: 

  • separating the consumer from the person who inflicted the unreasonable use of force
  • contacting a health practitioner such as a doctor as soon as possible
  • ensuring a full assessment of the consumer is conducted by a health practitioner to check for and treat any physical or psychological injury
  • contacting the ambulance service if the consumer needs an urgent assessment or treatment at a hospital. 

Where an incident may be unlawful, such as a physical assault, or there is ongoing danger to any person, you should also contact the police. 

In response to an incident, you need to practice open disclosure and engage affected consumers and their representatives throughout the resolution process. This involves communicating remedial actions and their progress to the consumer and their family or representatives.
 

Responding to unreasonable use of force

When an incident happens at your service, your first priority is always to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your consumer. 

With unreasonable use of force, this could mean: 

  • separating the consumer from the person who inflicted the unreasonable use of force
  • contacting a health practitioner such as a doctor as soon as possible
  • ensuring a full assessment of the consumer is conducted by a health practitioner to check for and treat any physical or psychological injury
  • contacting the ambulance service if the consumer needs an urgent assessment or treatment at a hospital. 

Where an incident may be unlawful, such as a physical assault, or there is ongoing danger to any person, you should also contact the police. 

In response to an incident, you need to practice open disclosure and engage affected consumers and their representatives throughout the resolution process. This involves communicating remedial actions and their progress to the consumer and their family or representatives.
 

Reporting unreasonable use of force

Unreasonable use of force, like any reportable incident, must be recorded in your IMS and the Commission must be notified. 

If there were reasonable grounds to contact the police, or if there was an harm to a consumer that needed medical or psychological treatment to resolve, it is a Priority 1 reportable incident. You must notify the Commission within 24 hours of becoming aware. 

If there were no reasonable grounds to contact the police and no harm to a consumer that required medical or psychological treatment to resolve, it is a Priority 2 reportable incident. You must notify the Commission within 30 days of becoming aware. 

A quality incident notification requires more than simply transcribing the details from progress notes about the incident or copying text from your IMS. It is important that the person making the notification is familiar with:

  • what happened
  • when the incident happened
  • where the incident happened
  • who was involved, including the affected consumer, workers involved in the incident, and other affected people
  • what actions were taken after the incident
  • what caused the incident (if known)
  • what changes will be made as a result of the incident (if known). 

If you become aware of further information after submitting an initial notification, you should update the Commission. 

When you provide clear and comprehensive information early in the process, it is less likely that the Commission will need to: 

  • ask for further details 
  • require you to conduct an investigation
  • directly investigate the matter itself. 
     

Tip

It is easier to make a good quality notification to the Commission if you have the information you need at hand.

Educating workers to report incidents correctly within your IMS will make it easier to notify the Commission when a reportable incident happens. 

Work tools

The fact sheet, Reportable incidents: unreasonable use of force, provides more detailed guidance for reporting of incidents in a residential service relating to this incident type.

The example Unreasonable use of force notification shows the level of detail the Commission expects when receiving a notification about this incident type.

You can use the Practical tips guide to ensure your notification contains all of the required information.

Work tools

The fact sheet, Reportable incidents: unreasonable use of force, provides more detailed guidance for reporting of incidents in a home or community setting relating to this type of reportable incident.

Contact us

If you have a question about the SIRS you can call us on 1800 081 549. This phone line is open 9 am to 5 pm (AEST) Monday to Sunday.

You can also email us at sirs@agedcarequality.gov.au
 

Facilitated Workshops

The Commission provides facilitated workshops to sector participants. All current workshops are available on the Commission’s Workshop page.

Facilitated Workshops

The Commission provides facilitated workshops to sector participants. All current workshops are available on the Commission’s Workshop page.

Online learning

The Commission’s Aged Care Learning Information Solution, Alis provides free online education for employees of Commonwealth-funded aged care providers, including modules covering reportable incidents and the eight reportable incident types. 

You can access Alis at learning.agedcarequality.gov.au
 

Disclaimer

The information contained on this page is intended to provide you with general guidance, however it is your responsibility to be aware of your legislative requirements.

Disclaimer

The information contained on this page is intended to provide you with general guidance, however it is your responsibility to be aware of your legislative requirements.