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Date: Wed 12 November 2008

Action needed on rising violence against public service staff

Violent incidents against Scottish public service staff have risen again, underlining the need for further action. UNISON Scotland today released new figures showing a total of 32,263 violent incidents against public service workers, more than half of which were NHS employees. And these are only the formally recorded incidents.

UNISON’s extended annual Freedom of Information questionnaire is the most comprehensive survey of violence against public service workers in Scotland. Scottish Organiser Dave Watson said that this year’s results highlight the need for a renewed effort including awareness campaigns, action by employers and stronger legislation.

Dave said: “It is completely unacceptable that thousands of dedicated staff providing services on behalf of the community are being assaulted at work. All those affected deserve stronger legal protection and better protective measures."

Assaults against people working in local government have risen by nearly 3,000 in the last year, up to a total of 9,121. The health service has the largest number of assaults, although there was a fall from 18,860 in the previous year to 17,693.

Most assaults were on nurses and nursing assistants, particularly in primary care. For the first time, this year’s survey includes, as well as health boards and local authorities, public sector employers in police, universities, Non Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs), public utilities etc. Last year’s survey showed 25,517 violent incidents against health and local government staff. This went up to 26,814 this year, with the overall total being 32,263.

As in previous years, UNISON is concerned that too many employers are not properly recording violent incidents and therefore are not taking appropriate action. Health boards have improved reporting but local government is generally poor. A number of local authorities have now recognised this and work is underway to develop best practice guidelines.

Dave Watson said: "We also need stronger legislation including an extension of the Emergency Workers Act to cover all those at risk. Discussions are underway on this point with the Scottish Government and we are looking for legislative action next year."

Recorded incidents in the new sectors surveyed include a horrific attack on two Scottish Water workers attending an emergency call-out. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7350226.stm

*They were attacked with bricks by two youths, one carrying a machete. Several assaults were recorded on special constables, policy custody support officers, community wardens and traffic wardens. The survey was released at a UNISON conference on Health & Safety, with delegates urged to put pressure on employers to introduce preventive measures to reduce violence at work, with risk assessments routine and all assaults reported.

ENDS

Note to Editors: The full report Violent Assaults on Public Service Staff in Scotland – Follow Up Survey 2008 is available at http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/safety/index.html (as are the 2007 and 2006 reports).

For further information please contact:
Dave Watson, Scottish Organiser 07958 122 409 (m)
Diane Anderson, Information Development Officer 0141 342 2842

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