Yesterday I was speaking at the launch of new guidance to manage occupational violence in Scottish local government. The document was launched by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice with supporting contributions from CoSLA and ourselves.
UNISON Scotland publishes an annual survey on violence at work. Last year we indentified over 25,000 violent incidents in the public sector of which nearly 10,000 were in local government. Of course these are only the recorded incidents – many more go unrecorded.
Our survey has shown that local government is lagging behind other sectors. In particular a number of councils have poor recording systems and limited monitoring. As a consequence we argued that new guidance was required for local government. A task group led by the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives including council safety staff and myself developed the guidance. It is a practical toolkit that builds on best practice and shows how councils can build effective strategies for tackling violence.
The starting point is to raise awareness of the issue and there have been a series of national publicity campaigns in recent years. Despite this we still have some way to go in changing a management culture that in some departments discourages reporting and positive action. Education and social work departments are a particular problem because most violent incidents are instigated by cared for persons.
Strengthening legislation is another priority. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has agreed to extend the scope of the Emergency Workers (S) Act (EWA) although progress on this has been slow. We are also supporting a private members Bill that will extend the provisions of the EWA to a much wider group of public service staff in the public and private sector.
The focus yesterday was rightly on the practical measures councils can take to tackle violence. The guidance calls on councils in partnership with the trade unions to review their approach against the best practice in the guidance. We may never eradicate violent incidents, but we can minimise them. This guidance shows how to do that.