Third sector care staff told violent assaults are “part of the job”

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Verbal abuse, hair pulling, scratching, biting, punching, kicking, pushing, spitting and having objects thrown are just "normal behaviour" care staff told

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25th October 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Bosses in Scotland's voluntary care industry have been accused of failing workers who face horrendous levels of violence while doing their job.

A major report into assaults faced by staff in public services shows the level of violent attacks has doubled in the past ten years.

It states that everyone who deals with the public are at risk, with care workers facing twice the national average risk of assault and nurses four times.

The information came to light in trade union Unison Scotland's annual Violence at Work Survey of public, private and third sector workers.

In the third sector, which makes up a significant part of the care landscape, most workers polled said their employer encouraged the reporting of violent incidents, but worryingly most said that their bosses regarded the violence as “part of the job”.

I feel awkward, useless, powerless, wondering where the backup - real not verbal - comes from?

Unison said that unlike other areas of the care industry, accurate figures are hard to come by for the third sector as it – as well as the private sector – is not covered by Freedom of Information legislation.

However, the union ran its own survey of members in the Scottish voluntary care sector which threw up some worrying results and disturbing testimony.

The findings, say Unison, underline longstanding concerns over violence at work in the third sector.

Of the mainly female workers 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.

All of these workers had reported at least one violent incident to a manager but only 56% said their report had been followed up by their employer and only 44% felt the report was taken seriously.

Although most said their employer did actually encourage the reporting of violent incidents, 83% said that their employer regarded violence as “part of the job”.

As part of its study, Unison gathered powerful testimony from third sector are staff.

A female project worker with a large care charity said: "The majority of people we work with are on the autistic spectrum and many have extreme challenging behaviour. I have been verbally abused, hair pulled, scratched, bitten, punched, kicked, pushed, objects thrown at me and spat on.

“It makes me feel worthless. I reported some of the incidents – only if I was injured. We would be told this is the young person's normal behaviour."

A male support worker with two other large charities described his experience of violence as "People lashing out, threatened when things out of your control don't work out, these things constantly happen in the disability and learning disability sector – usually on a daily basis.

“I feel awkward, useless, powerless, wondering where the backup – real not verbal – comes from?"

A female support worker in a large care charity said she had been "spat on, had items thrown at me, swore at, locked in a room."

As a result she had felt "inadequate, teary, stressed, anxious, unsupported. "

Another female support worker in a different charity graphically described an assault she had been subjected to: "I was speaking to another staff member when the client got up from his chair. Thinking he was going to the toilet I opened the door for him and stood back to allow him to pass. Instead he came towards me and hit me on the face, pushing my glasses and resulted in two black eyes. For the remainder of the shift he was constantly trying to hit out or push me."

Unison’s investigation stated that many staff reported that no follow up action was taken, and others claimed that even if they were moved from working with a specific client, someone else had to do the job and that training was not being offered.

The report states: “We know from the direct experience of our members in the community and voluntary sector that violent assaults on workers especially in care jobs are a huge problem. This is made worse partly because it is regarded by many employers and others as just part of the job.

“Many of the clients they care for present challenging behaviours and often the workers also face poor levels of support from their employers, even when they report violent incidents.”

Unison says it it so concerned it plans a full scale survey of members in the voluntary sector which will supplement the annual violence at work report and form the basis of a campaign to challenge the acceptance of violence as “part of the job.”

Of the overall report, Scott Donohue, chair of Unison’s health and safety committee said: “Violence against public service workers has increased, with significant increases against local authority workers. We cannot ignore a doubling of the figures over 10 years.

“It is also reasonable to make the correlation between the swingeing cuts to councils and increase in violence to council workers. Staff tell us if you have to wait longer, or the service you need is no longer available, or a support worker has less time to spent with a client, it’s being taken out on those working face to face with the public.”

The Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland has been asked for comment.