Duty of care vs dignity of risk – what does it mean?

 One of the most misunderstood concepts for organisations is the line that determines what is our duty of care to protect those we support. 


There may be situations where someone has the decision making power to make choices, even poor choices, or choices we may even consider detrimental. 


With the NDIS’s focus on choice and control, it is vital to have a clear understanding between ‘their’ dignity and ‘our’ risk.


So how do we as caretakers, support workers, providers or loved ones decide when it is right to step in and assist to prevent unnecessary risks?


To answer this question we must find out: 


  • What is our duty of care?
  • What is their dignity of risk? 


What is duty of care? 

According to the Workplace Mental Health Institute; duty of care is the legal responsibility which was set up to ensure people are not harmed by the services an organisation and its staff provides. 


The main misconception is that services have a duty of care to protect the person from themselves and their own choices, but this is not necessarily true.


Duty of care means we have a duty to step in on situations if there is a risk of:

  • death (including suicide)
  • permanent and serious disability 
  • lack of capacity – and this is deemed by a legal process (e.g., QCAT)
  • if a person is subject to an IPO or ITO – Court directed treatment orders


And while these points are vital to be mindful of, make sure you are not ‘over protecting’ the person unnecessarily. Remember, each person has the right to make decisions for themselves.


What is their dignity of risk? 

In Australian law, every person, including those living with a disability, has the right to make their own choices. 


What this means is we have the dignity to make our own choices and so do other people. This means everyone can take certain risks, to learn from mistakes and to grow and choose how they want to live their life.


If, for example – we have the dignity of risk to smoke cigarettes if we choose, then those we support also have the dignity of risk to make that choice. 


The bottom line is, if you or I can choose to make this choice, so can those we support. 


If you have questions about duty of care or dignity of risk, feel free to contact ISM’s staff today on 1800 954 559. We will endeavour to answer your questions and provide clarity.


If this article has raised any issues for you, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636