How Safe Is the Health and Care Sector?

By Matt Rumbelow, Head of Design & Marketing, Safepoint (www.safepointapp.com)

The health and care sector provides vital care and support for those at their most vulnerable. But actually it’s those that work within it that can so often fall victim to abuse, aggression and violence from the very people they are trying to protect.

Did you know one out of seven of the UK’s working population work in health and social care? Yet this sector also has the highest rates of workplace violence with workers nearly three times more likely to be physically attacked. Violence within this sector is in a crisis, and yet it doesn’t seem to be discussed.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, ‘health and social care employees should not accept incidents of violent or aggressive behaviour as a normal part of the job’. Yet for many workers this is exactly the case, with a study by Able Training Support suggesting that around 70% of care workers claim to have faced both verbal and physical aggression in their jobs.

TYPES OF ATTACK

Recently Community Care reported social workers being ‘threatened with weapons, verbally abused, stabbed, held hostage, harassed in the street and having hot drinks thrown on them’. Another report by Community Care shows that 61% of child protection workers face being threatened by hostile or intimidating parents. With high levels of violence and abuse in this sector, perhaps what’s more concerning is more than half of the respondents did not have or were not aware of protocols on how to deal with these incidents.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS?

Health and social care has been rated as the most stressful industry to work in, according to The Office Group. The sector is beset by long hours and difficult working environments, sometimes with inadequate training.

These conditions, as well as disheartening job prospects – half of all care workers are paid below the real living wage and a third are on zero- hour contracts – have a dire impact on not only the sector, but also the wellbeing of the people working within it. It is predicted that there will be a deficit of 400,000 adult social care workers by 2028.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The first point of call for an employer in health and social care, is to create a detailed and specific risk assessment. Assessments should con- sider universal risks, such as working alone or during unusual hours, as well as specific cases such as working with a high-risk client.

Risk assessments should be updated regularly – taking into account any new changes in mental state, any patterns of aggression, and, of course, any episodes of violence or threatening behaviour.

After the risk assessment is made, serious and concrete action should be taken to mitigate those risks and to deal with the effects:

• Making visits to high-risk clients in pairs or groups;

• Assigning better trained and more experienced staff to high-risk clients;

• Providing a system of communication so that staff can request help, particularly when working alone. This may include an app-based lone work- ing device, or a wearable panic alarm.

Over time, larger scale changes to the sector will have to be made. Higher levels of training, greater emotional support for workers, and less demanding hours should all be considered. Right now, there are already standards in place that must be better adhered to. Health and social care workers deserve to work in the safest environment possible, with greater support from their employers and from the public, and the best place to start is to talk about the issue.

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