Social work employers are doing too little to protect staff against violence from service users, an expert has warned.
Trainer Ray Braithwaite said risk assessments were often skipped despite health and safety legislation requirements.
He urged social workers to ensure that they and their managers identified dangers they might face when dealing with clients.
Braithwaite told a session on dealing with dangerous clients this week at Community Care Live Children and Families that the staff were the “most precious commodity” their employers had.
Failure to safeguard them by assessing the risks they might be exposed to could result in large fines and prison sentences, he said.
Braithwaite, who trains social workers how to manage stress and aggression, said: “The balance is between the safety of the worker on the one hand and, on the other hand, providing a service to the child.”
He pointed out three workers had been killed while visiting children in their homes in the past two years, adding: “ I don’t think we are doing enough, and we are not doing it fast enough, to safeguard staff.”
Braithwaite and Ruth Cartwright, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, called for action by employers to ensure that all threats against staff were taken seriously, particularly written threats.
They said social workers needed to be aware that the most dangerous time for working with service users was within three to six months of becoming involved, rather than at the beginning.
Service users “may identify your weaknesses and you may begin to relax”, Braithwaite told social workers.
On a show of hands, nearly every social worker at the session reported they had faced physical or verbal aggression at work.