Violence at work is not part of the job

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Dave Watson warns voluntary sector manager who continue to tell staff violence is just part of the job will face the wrath of Unison

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21st September 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

A survey of UNISON members in the voluntary sector last year highlighted a high level of violent assaults. Of the members – mainly women – who had experienced violence in the course of their work, 50% had been physically assaulted, 61% had faced threatening behaviour, 56% were verbally abused – and 56% had experienced a combination of all three. These were often frequent and sometimes daily occurrences.

Of equal concern was that all of these workers had reported at least one violent incident to a manager. Only 56% said their report had been followed up by their employer and only 44% felt the report was taken seriously. 83% of staff also reported that that they have been told by managers that assaults from service users are just ‘part of the job’.

Dave Watson

Dave Watson

Woe betides any voluntary sector manager who tells us violence is ‘part of the job’ – you have been warned!

I have heard the very same phrase used by senior managers in the sector, which is astonishing given the legal position is crystal clear. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), defines violence at work as “any incident in which an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”. This includes violence initiated by service users.

That said, we recognise that many of the smaller employers in the sector often struggle to put in place the policies and procedures necessary to address issues like this. That’s why we have published a guide that helps our members and employers to understand the issue and provides the methodology and documentation they need to tackle violence at work.

Employers should start by raising awareness, built around a clear policy statement that violence is unacceptable and is not part of the job. This should be followed up with training for all staff. Simple and accessible workforce recording systems should be available for staff to complete. Managers should review every incident and put in place measures based on risk assessment that minimise the risk of violence.

Attitudes to violence at work in the voluntary sector used to be prevalent in the public sector. When UNISON first started to collect data on assaults, we often got a response to Freedom of Information requests that said, ‘you don’t mean assaults from looked after persons?’ Ten years later, following greater awareness and a systems approach, not only are workplaces safer, but we have at least begun to challenge the underlying culture.

The voluntary sector has now got to make the same journey. I hope that the guide demonstrates that UNISON is not just here to condemn, but to offer practical assistance. Of course, if employers ignore the warning, we will take legal and compliance action to protect our members.

Violence at work, in any form, is not acceptable and is not part of the contract of employment. Woe betides any voluntary sector manager who tells us violence is part of the job

Dave Watson is the head of policy and public affairs at UNISON Scotland.

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