Unions have backed calls for mandatory training on personal safety to be included in the social work degree.
The British Association of Social Workers and Unison believe social workers would gain a better understanding of risks presented by day-to-day practice through better initial training.
The proposal was originally included in a report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, entitled Mainstreaming Occupational Safety and Health into University Education.
It follows an investigation by Community Care earlier this year on the dangers faced by social care staff in the UK, which found levels of violence and abuse were high, and recognition, training and policies among employers often inadequate.
The European agency’s report said reforming vocational courses such as the social work degree would be key to making risk management a priority within organisations.
“It is easier to achieve this if employees and managers come to the workplace well qualified and with a basic understanding of OSH [occupational safety and health],” the report by the EU-funded agency said.
Ruth Cartwright, joint manager for BASW England, supported proposals for risk assessment training and for practitioners to have a more health and safety-focused attitude.
She said employers and universities had a responsibility to deliver training for social workers on diffusing potentially violent situations and general personal safety.
“We are all vulnerable and, apart from the risk of violence, often social workers are expected to do things that could be dangerous, such as moving things [in service users’ houses], lifting babies into cars, and they need to know how to do this safely and when not to do it,” she said.
Hope Daley, head of health and safety at Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers across the UK, said incorporating additional training on risk assessments into the social work degree would be “a good step forward”.
But Daley added the responsibility for carrying out risk assessments ultimately lay with employers.
“If they want their staff to do these checks, they must make sure they are properly trained, have the time, the skills, and support, to do them. If any member of staff says they need additional support, they must be able to get it.”
Both BASW and Unison repeated their calls for a national register of violent incidents involving social care staff.