Safety reforms won’t protect staff from violence, experts warn

A planned shake-up of health and safety will fail to protect social care workers from violent and abusive attacks, campaigners have warned.

A planned shake-up of health and safety will fail to protect social care workers from violent and abusive attacks, campaigners have warned.

Social care experts and unions criticised Lord Young’s review of health and safety laws, describing it as a missed opportunity to tighten safety for the social care workforce. The government has accepted all of the recommendations, which called for procedures for employers, and requirements on risk assessments, to be simplified and relaxed.

Campaigners are continuing to lobby for a national register of threats and violence suffered by social care workers, which Unison has described as a “chronic problem” in the sector.

The calls follow a Community Care investigation earlier this year which revealed 80% of practitioners had experienced more than one abusive incident in the past year, and two-thirds of councils in England did not have a written policy on tackling violence against social care staff.

“In an environment in which social care employers already have to be pushed to take these responsibilities seriously, the tone of Lord Young’s proposals are of concern,” said Brian Littlechild, professor of social work at Hertfordshire University.

“Any perception from employers that they can take this less seriously will leave staff less safe and less well supported.”

The systems addressed in Lord Young’s review were mainly concerned with “workplace accidents”, not incidents, as Ni Holmes, violence and aggression consultant at Fife Council social work service pointed out.

“It is not by accident that care workers are verbally abused or physically struck while carrying out their duties,” Holmes explained. “This indicates that it would be appropriate to remove ‘workplace violence’ from the system altogether.”

Holmes backed calls from Unison, which represents 300,000 social care workers in the UK, for a national recording system of violence and assaults against social care workers.

Bill Fox, chairman of Maybo, a consultancy providing training in workplace violence and conflict resolution, agreed.

“Only a dedicated violence reporting system with qualitative information from staff surveys will provide a true picture of the problem,” he said. “Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, proposals for a national register of violent incidents involving social care staff have failed to secure support because organisations record and categorise information differently.”

The Local Government Employers have already rejected plans for a national register, citing differences in the way information is recorded in different areas as a major obstacle.

At present, employers are only required to report incidents leading to injuries to the Health and Safety Executive if it results in an absence of more than three days.

Lord Young called for these rules, known as the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, to be reformed so that only absences lasting more than seven days need be reported.

The HSE will begin consulting on these changes in January but Littlechild warned that they would weaken efforts to investigate violent incidents in social care and the types of risk that lead up to them.

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