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Disability support workers – your rights with combative clients


Disability support workers play a vital role in caring for, supervising and supporting vulnerable Australians, both at home and in care facilities.

The needs of Australians living with a disability are complex and so is the work required to support them.

Due to the care and physical requirements of the role, disability support workers are exposed to some risk of injury in their roles. When this risk isn’t properly managed by employers, workers can end up hurt.

What are my rights as a disability support worker?

Disability support workers should enjoy the same basic health and safety rights as other Australian employees, whether they work casually on a contract, part-time or full-time.

Disability support providers have a responsibility to keep their employees safe at work. This includes:

  • Instructing and training staff on performing their role safely
  • Providing appropriate equipment and ensuring staff know how to use it
  • Consulting with employees on safety issues

In addition to their right to safety, disability support workers are entitled to fair pay and conditions, including access to workers compensation when injured.

Common injuries sustained by disability support workers

Owing to the physical requirements of the role, physical injuries are common among disability support workers. These include:

  • Back injuries, for example from lifting clients or equipment
  • Slips and falls due to hazards like spilled water
  • Repetitive strain or muscle stress due to workload

Additionally, disability care workers may suffer physical or psychological injuries due to abuse, either by clients or colleagues. This abuse can range from physical violence against carers to extensive verbal harassment or bullying.

Can disability support workers refuse care with violent clients?

Throughout their employment, disability support workers may encounter or care for clients who behave violently or abusively. If a client is violent or abusive, care workers should raise this immediately with their employer, either through their manager or safety representative.

It’s important that carers report any safety concerns they have with clients, even if they don’t personally feel at risk caring for the client. This will prevent any other carers who may be unaware of the risk, from being harmed.

WorkSafe Qld recommends refusing or modifying the services provided until the safety risks are eliminated (or at least minimised). The employer should also authorise their employees to refuse care if the employee feels their personal safety is at risk.

How to maintain disability support worker safety

There are a number of measures that can be used to prevent or minimise the risk of harm towards disability support workers by violent clients. These include:

  • Working with clients to establish clear behavioural expectations and the consequences if these expectations are not met.
  • Set up the room/environment so that it is as safe as possible (e.g. removing potential weapons or installing a physical barrier or restraints).
  • Ensure all relevant information and incident reports are shared between the clients carers.
    • The procedures in place to deal with violent or abusive clients
    • Reporting any and all threats and incidents of abuse

Injured working in disability care? Shine Lawyers can help

If you’ve suffered an injury working in disability care, whether physical or psychological, you may be eligible to make a claim for workers compensation.

Our team of workers compensation experts can help you understand your rights and access the compensation you need to get your life back on track.

To get started, use our free online claim checker below or speak to one of our experts over the phone for a no-obligation chat.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: December 23, 2021.

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