How safe are you at work? For many people, social work involves
excessive, heavy caseloads, too much paperwork, hopelessly
inadequate resources plus continual reorganisation and change. If
that wasn’t bad enough the job might also involve verbal and
Social workers receive plenty of media coverage when things go
wrong for a person in their care. Yet, when a social worker is
killed at work there is less coverage.
It should not come as any great surprise that research into
occupational stress has regularly highlighted social work as one of
the most stressful jobs in Britain. During recent years many social
workers have voted with their feet and have left the profession.
Since 1993, the number of social work students has fallen by 40 per
cent. Staff shortages, which were once seen as a problem in London
and south east England, are rapidly becoming a problem
It is right that the government-backed advertising campaign
designed to boost recruitment should focus on social work being all
“about people” – that is the reason why people come into the
profession. Despite all the difficulties social workers face, there
is no doubt that when things go well, social work can and does make
a real difference to people’s lives.
All employers have legal responsibilities regarding health and
safety of staff. This includes risk assessments, training, keeping
accurate records of any incidents, and reporting relevant incidents
to the Health and Safety Executive. There is also a clear
requirement for employers to work with trade unions and staff in
promoting safer working.
Given the current pace of change and privatisation across public
services it is easy to see how staff safety can be overlooked.
There are real concerns about services and responsibilities being
transferred to outside agencies. Private companies motivated by
profit have been seen to cut corners on health and safety in the
coal and rail industries. Trade unions argue that public services
risk a similar fate.
It is up to each and every one of us to take the issue seriously
and make personal safety a trade union and professional issue. No
one should have to put up with threats or abuse, this should not be
considered “part of the job”. Violence to staff is the unacceptable
face of social work. It’s high time that we said enough is
Martin Challender is a social worker and Unison convenor at
Bolton social services department.