What is duty of care
Ensuring clients and colleagues are safe and treated appropriately is the vital obligation of every counsellor, which is why duty of care must be heavily considered. Duty of care is legally written into the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and is your responsibility to protect the safety and wellbeing of others. This includes anticipating possible hazards and causes of injury and doing everything reasonably practicable to prevent, remove or minimise these causes. Applying and adhering to your codes of practice, ethical standards, and organisational policy will ensure you carry out your duty of care. In counselling especially, it is so important to recognise a person’s right to be in a safe environment free from neglect and abuse.
Duty of care in law
Duty of care comes under the ruling of tort law i.e., a civil wrong as opposed to a breach of contract. It requires a standard of reasonable care to be provided while an individual is carrying out any activity that can possibly harm others. If you breach duty of care that makes you, as an individual, liable to legal action from the claimant.
Duty of care has been developed through common law i.e., it is based on past related court rulings. This means there is no exact legal definition for things like duty of care and negligence (failing to exercise reasonable care to avoid causing harm to another person).
Courts determine a breach of duty of care based on the following criteria:
- What is typically expected of another person in the same situation
- The person’s roles and responsibilities within their organisation
- The experience and level of training of the individual
- The practicalities of the situation
- What is deemed acceptable practice within the community
- Generally accepted standards in the situation
- Relevant laws such as the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
The responsibility of a counsellor
Duty of care is not something that can simply be delegated, everyone is accountable to the responsibility of health and safety. While all this might seem obvious, problems can arise for anyone, and they often occur from inattention and complacency. It is principally the counsellor’s responsibility to provide that safe environment needed for a counselling session, with physical and psychological safety the basis for attaining a successful counselling relationship. Acting in the best interests of clients and ensuring you deal with them in an ethical and considerate manner is not just ethical, it is essential to good communication and achieving significant results.