QUALITY IN PRACTICE – the latest guidance on HEALTH AND SAFETY
Walter Brennan outlines the legislation that protects front line social workers from violence
It is estimated that in the UK a social care worker is the target of verbal abuse every 10 minutes and physical violence every hour. No less disturbing is the fact that at least half of all incidents are never reported or recorded as violent incidents.
Social workers must be kept safe to do their work, but they should also know their rights and ensure their employers are adhering to regulations.
Here are the four main pieces of legislation relevant to violence plus a warning on lone working:
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
Section 2 of the act stipulates that every employer has a duty “to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all his employees”. Employers can be prosecuted and face an unlimited fine if they are found to have breached this duty.
Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977; The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996
Employers must inform and consult employees in good time on matters relating to their health and safety.
Trade unions may make representations to their employer on matters affecting the health and safety of their members. These regulations are too often overlooked by employers who fail to consult staff over issues that can have a serious impact on their safety.
Social workers have a right to have their concerns recorded and health and safety representatives should take up their concerns on their behalf.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
Violence officially became a recognised health and safety issue only in April 1996 when the above regulations came into effect. This means employers must notify their enforcing authority in the event of an accident at work to any employee resulting in death, major injury, on incapacity for normal work for three or more days as a result of violence.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Employers must consider the risks to employees (including the risk of reasonably foreseeable violence); decide how significant these risks are; decide what to do to prevent or control the risks; and develop a clear management plan to achieve this. In other words, risk assessments must be carried out as part of good and safe practice.
Social workers who visit service users in their homes must carry out even a simple risk assessment to reduce their vulnerability.
National Task Force on Violence Against Social Care Staff – report and national action plan, Department of Health, 2001
Walter Brennan is a training consultant specialising in personal safety and conflict