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12 October 2003

Public service workers becoming 'society's punchbags' says UNISON

In National Health and Safety Week Scotland's largest union, UNISON, today warned that public service workers are becoming 'society's punchbags' and called on the Scottish Executive to introduce legislation to ensure that attacks on any staff delivering public services in Scotland would be treated as serious assault.

Jim Devine (UNISON's Scottish Organiser with responsibility for Health & Safety) said: "Health and Safety is a top priority for UNISON. Last year more than one million injuries and 258 deaths were reported in the workplace. 24.3 million working days were lost and over 27,000 people were forced to give up work due to injury. Since 1999 UNISON has won over £40m in compensation for members involved in work related personal injury cases."

Sadly, much of this compensation is now a result of assaults and abuse at work. Figures taken from the latest British Crime Survey show high-risk jobs, the majority of which are in the public sector.

Police officer 28.4%
Social workers and probation officers 17.6%
Publicans and bar staff 11.5%
Taxi drivers 9.2%
Nurses 8.9%
Assistant nurses and auxiliaries 7.4%
National and local government administrators 7.1%
Welfare, youth and community workers 6.2%
Leisure Service providers 3.7%
Retail workers 3.6%
Teachers 3.5%

"In June of this year UNISON's Annual Trauma Survey indicated that:

* Nearly half the respondents went to work in fear of some form of violent incident
* 135 people (7% of respondents) had been threatened with a weapon
* 2018 people (49.5% of respondents) experienced threats or verbal abuse - 183 people said this happened so frequently that they couldn't recall a specific number of times it had happened
* 5% of respondents (57 people) said they had been sexually harassed by a member of the public to them
* there were 238 specific violent incidents which led to injuries. Of these, 34 people suffered a major injury

"Physical and verbal abuse should not be part of a public service worker's job. There is public support for tough action against those who attack public service workers. In April of this year an independent opinion poll carried out for UNISON Scotland showed that 99% of the respondents agreed that violent attacks on public service workers should be treated as serious assault."

The Scottish Executive are presently consulting with the trade unions and others on introducing legislation that would see an attack on an emergency worker as serious assault. UNISON believes that this does not go far enough. In practice it is impossible to make a distinction between the risks faced by an emergency worker, for example a paramedic and a colleague (eg a porter) who could be assisting them to deal with an incident. In addition, as the British Crime Survey data shows, it is not just emergency workers who are at risk. Social workers and local government administrative staff also face significant risks.

In Health & Safety week it is important that a very strong message is sent from the Executive saying that physical and verbal abuse of public sector workers is not acceptable.


For Further Information Please Contact: Jim Devine, Scottish Organiser 0845 355 0845(w) 07876 441239(m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0845 355 0845(w) 0771 558 3729(m)

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