Everyone has the right to expect a safe and secure workplace, UNISON’s community conference in Southport heard. Workers in the community, voluntary and housing sectors should not have to accept violent or aggressive behaviour as “a normal part of their role”.
But the debate on violence toward staff has become a hardy perennial the service groups conference. And this year was no different.
Once more, delegates found themselves discussing motions on the issue and calling for “Employers and employees [to] work together to establish systems to prevent or reduce aggressive behaviour from individuals supported in whatever … setting.”
This year’s motion listed just some examples of the violence and aggression faced by UNISON members working to support some of the most vulnerable people in society.
- a support worker bitten by an individual with learning disabilities while providing necessary support;
- an angry visitor who considers that his or her relative had not been properly treated, verbally abusing a manager of the support organisation;
- a carer verbally abused and threatened by an individual who was unwilling to take prescribed medication;
- a member of domiciliary staff providing refreshments being struck by a confused elderly patient.
And speakers in the debate had plenty of examples of their own.
Conference heard of a member assaulted by a service user and sent to hospital, only to find an unsympathetic manager, who she described as “bullying and aggressive”, and no support when she raised a grievance.
Now she is on long-term sick leave.
Another member told of locking herself in an office to escape an aggressive 12-year-old with knife, and being assaulted with a zimmer frame by an old-age service user.
“None of us come to work to be threatened, intimidated or harmed,” said one delegate, while another pointed out: “We’re getting attacked at work for minimum wage.”
Delegates heard that a recent review of violence against care and support workers found that 93% reported being verbally abused, 71% said they had been threatened or intimidated at some point in their employment and 53% had reported a physical assault.
And workers were more at risk if their work involved:
- lone working;
- working additional hours;
- travelling to provide support in the community;
- administering medication or handling valuables;
- supporting individuals with learning disabilities;
- working with drink or drug affected individuals who require the services of support staff;
- supporting people with stress related illnesses.
Conference called on the union to investigate why the prevalence of violence is rising, provide guidance and support to affected staff, share best practice on tackling the issue.