Duty of Care and Dignity of Risk – What does it mean?

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What does Duty of Care and Dignity of Risk mean?


Find out from Rosemarie Dravnieks, Interchanges Risk, Quality and Safeguarding Lead what we mean when we talk about Duty of Care and Dignity of Risk.


With the NDIS focus on choice and control for individuals with a disability, it is essential for Interchange to have a clear understanding of the concepts of “duty of care” and “dignity of risk”.

When supporting people either as support workers, families or carers of a person we need to ask questions to decide when it is right to step in and assist to prevent unnecessary risks, and when not to?

This is particularly difficult where someone makes choices, that we may consider harmful to them.

It is a really important issue for our customers, their families and our staff. One of the core values of Interchange is Empowerment. Our aim is not to run people’s lives, but to help them live the best life they can safely. So how do we try to draw the line between duty of care and dignity of risk?

To answer this question, we need to know what these terms mean:

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

Duty of care

This is a legal term, with a clearly defined meaning. Duty of care is the responsibility of organisations and their staff, to ensure they do no harm to the people they support. However this does not mean that the organisation must protect the person from themselves.

Duty of care is the legal responsibility set up to ensure people are not harmed by the services an organisation and its staff provides. The main misconception is that duty of care means protecting the person from themselves and their own choices, but this is not necessarily true. We need to make sure we are not ‘over protecting’ the person unnecessarily. Each person has the right to make decisions for themselves within their capacity to do so.

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 may be determined by a legal process such as a Guardianship order
  • harm to another person

Dignity of risk

Dignity of risk refers to the legal right of every person, including those with a disability, to make choices and take risks in order to learn, grow and have better quality of life.

Inherent to the idea of dignity of risk, is the idea that life experiences come with an element of risk, which even the best planning and support can not eliminate.

For example, if 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.

An individual’s right to make choices for their life is assumed until it is established that assistance is required. Where this line is drawn will be determined by those legally responsible for the individual such as their family or a legally appointed guardian.

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

A delicate balance

The intersection of duty of care and dignity of risk for people in need of support is a very grey area. It can be hard to decide sometimes what is the best action for any given individual. Trying to keep them safe versus allowing them to grow, develop and learn from life.

If that choice doesn’t put them at risk of serious injury, it might be the right decision for them. After all, as support workers or families of a person with a disability, our role is to assist individuals to live the best life possible.


Find out more how we can support people to live a good life where everyone belongs.