One in five of all workers in Britain who have been signed off after work-related assaults is employed in social care, new figures have revealed.
Social care accounted for 19% of all injuries involving assault in all sectors across the economy in 2009-10, according to the Health and Safety Executive, despite only representing 5% of the country’s workforce.
The number of these incidents totalled 1,139 in 12 months, meaning on average that three social care workers were assaulted each day. No fatalities were reported in this period, the last death occurring in 2008.
Health and safety expert Ni Holmes, from Fife Council, said these figures represented “the tip of the iceberg” because the HSE only collects data on incidents which result in staff absence of three days or more.
Holmes added that it was worrying that no information was collected on the overall prevalence of violence within the sector, which unions say has become a “chronic problem” in social care.
“The data says little about the day to day experience of many staff working in social work and care settings who are verbally abused or struck without major injury, sometimes with regularity.”
Overall, the rate of major injuries to social care workers in Britain has more than doubled since 2001-2, with a 33% increase in 2008-09 which was maintained in 2009-10. The HSE said this was largely due to an increase in slips and trips, with the proportion of slips and trips classified as “major” increasing from 17% to 31%.
A spokesperson said this could be explained by an increase in awareness and reporting following the HSE’s Shattered Lives campaign, but added that it planned to look into the matter further.
Holmes, a violence and aggression consultant for Fife Council’s social work service, urged employers of social care workers to tackle the issue of violence in the workplace.
The most important step, he said, would be to adopt a public health model of violence reduction that dealt systematically with the causes of violence, while workplace cultures should be adapted to support safe working practices.
Chris Jackson, chair of the National Association for Safety and Health in Care Services, agreed that more action was needed to reverse the trend, adding: “Every injury is a person whose normal life will have been affected.”
Other sectors with high rates of injuries caused by assault included health, which accounted for 30% of all work-related injuries caused by assault, and public administration, which accounted for 20%.
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