Thousands of council staff subject to ‘violence at work’

Chichester's County Hall
Chichester's County Hall

West Sussex County Council staff were subject to nearly 3,000 incidents of physical and verbal abuse over the past three years.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows there were 2,895 incidents of verbal and/or physical ‘violence at work’ against county council employees from 2010 to 2012. Children’s Social Care and Adults’ Services were the departments where incidents occurred the most.

Between 2010 and 2012 Children’s Social Care accounted for 2,011 incidents of which 1,938 were physical violence. In the same period there were 381 incidents of violence in schools, including 336 physical.

In Adults’ Services there were 416 cases from 2010 to 2012, of which 332 were physical assaults.

Despite the amount of violence occurring in Childrens’ Services, the county council says it ‘remains confident’ relationships between staff and clients are ‘amicable’.

In March 2011 West Sussex County Council was served an improvement notice for its safeguarding in Children’s Social Care after an Ofsted inspection published in December 2010 deemed the service ‘inadequate’.

It has since been reassessed in February 2013 and was judged adequate. The fostering service received a good Ofsted rating after an inspection on November 2012.

There is no correlation between the number of incidents and the measured improvement in services. However, across all departments the number of incidents dropped from 1,307 in 2010 to 876 in 2012.

A WSCC spokesman said: “The figures for the last three years have to be seen in the context of the many thousands of interactions that take place annually between council employed staff and the public and the figures cover all our major services and would include a variety of settings.

“The council monitors the reports and takes appropriate action where it is felt necessary, but it must be stressed that the vast majority of reports stem from services caring for young people with known behavioural conditions, for which a caring risk assessment has been completed and reviewed regularly.

“These reports also trigger a review of the risk assessment. The council remains confident that the relationships between staff and our customers are amicable, and do not give any rise for concern.”

The spokesman added that every member of staff undergoes training for such incidents. He said: “There is a great deal of advice and information posted on our intranet for managers and staff on how to cope with challenging situations. For example, our Health and Safety Service provides training on personal safety awareness, which are aimed at staff who work alone and those who work in different locations due to the need to visit clients within their homes.

“This course covers techniques that can be used to recognise, defuse and control aggressive situations which could potentially escalate into violence.”