I am at Stirling University today, speaking at our annual health and safety conference. Part of health and safety at work week.
I am launching the UNISON Scotland annual survey of violent incidents reported to public service employers in Scotland. There were 34,739 staff reported incidents last year. This compares to 20,000 incidents when the first survey was undertaken in 2006.
There has been a big increase in incidents in local government by 2257 to 14274. While there has been a marked improvement in reporting that may explain some of the increase, there are also 7,000 fewer staff working for councils.
It is noticeable that the biggest increase in violent incidents is happening in those council services that are facing the brunt of spending cuts. Staff are stretched too thinly, dealing with service users facing cuts in the services they rely on. This is a toxic cocktail that is putting hard pressed workers at greater risk of violent assault.
The NHS shows a further decrease in incidents by 967 to 10,974. However, the two largest health boards (Glasgow and Lothian) were unable to produce figures this year, so these figures have to be treated with caution. While we are pleased that many employers are improving their systems, others have obviously got some way to go. If they can’t produce decent statistics they cannot be tackling the problem.
Convictions under the Emergency Workers Act have increased by 44 to 324. Due to the limited scope of the Act few violent incidents result in criminal action. Efforts to address this were blocked by the Scottish Government when they opposed Hugh Henry MSP’s, Protection of Worker’s Bill.
These figures demonstrate an appalling level of violent incidents faced by staff who are simply doing their job. Employers must redouble their efforts to protect workers and the Scottish Government must play their role by strengthening the criminal law.