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Protecting Public Service Workers - When the Customer isn't right Briefing No 96 Sept 2004


As part of the Executive's overall Anti-Social Behaviour strategy and as a key component in its programme to tackle violence against public service workers, the Executive has published a report entitled 'Protecting Public Service Workers: When the Customer isn't Right'. The report is the fulfilment of an Executive pledge, given during the consultation exercise on the 'Protection of Emergency Workers', that a package of wider measures would be developed to address the problem of attacks on public service workers.

This new strategy for tackling WRV in Scotland, fully supported by UNISON Scotland, is the result of extensive trade union collaboration with the Executive. The STUC and affiliated unions including UNISON Scotland worked with the Executive and other key partners in drawing up the recommendations contained in the report.

Work Related Violence - Current Situation

Under-reporting of WRV

It is very difficult to estimate the true figure in relation to assaults on workers due to the fact that it has been demonstrated that many people regard verbal abuse as 'part of the job' and others feel unable or unwilling to report all but the most serious of incidents. For example, a recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) estimates that around 40% of violent and aggressive behaviour incidents in the NHS in England are not reported.

The high levels of non-reporting of WRV is thought to be due to a number of factors: lack of training; lack of support from employers; fear of being perceived as unable to deal with the job; lack of reporting procedures or reporting procedures which are time consuming and onerous; as well as a belief that the complaint will not be dealt with seriously.

Poor statistical recording of WRV

Few performance indicators exist currently for WRV and most statistics are only available through individual employers, trade associations and trade unions and as such, these figures lack consistency.

 There are other difficulties in obtaining accurate figures. These include differing definitions of what constitutes violence and aggression, wide variations in reporting and data-collection methods and reluctance on the part of staff to report incidents.

However, UNISON Scotland's survey, conducted for the Trauma 2003 report, indicated that the frequency of verbal abuse and physical attacks within the public sector in Scotland was in the region of 100,000 per year. In addition, the NHSScotland Partnership Information Network guideline Managing Health at Work estimates that 1 in 5 Scottish healthcare workers are physically or verbally attacked in their workplace.

Current WRV initiatives

There is little co-ordination of current initiatives to prevent WRV across Scotland. Where they exist these tend to be targeted within specific sectors/ specific localities where there has been a history of problems in relation to WRV e.g. Initiatives led by First Bus and Scot Rail


The Reports Main Recommendations

Raising Awareness

The launch of a public awareness campaign on the unacceptability of assaults against workers will be launched in September 2004. This campaign will be based on the theme of "respect" and will be refreshed annually.

Common Badging

All public manifestations of the strategy will have a common badge, which organisations wishing to be associated with the strategy can use.


Scotland's Health at Work (SHAW) to host a dedicated web page to disseminate good practice in the workplace relating to training, reporting incidents and ensuring a working environment safe from the risk of attack.

Incentivising Employers

The SHAW framework and awards scheme should be expanded to include a specific module of accreditation covering the promotion of good practice in the prevention of workplace violence. Consideration will be given to including sessions on the prevention of workplace violence in the formal training for Investors in People advisers.

Public Sector employers and their contractors should lead the way in promulgating best practice in the prevention of WRV.

Training and Education

Existing training courses and accreditation bodies as well as initiatives to identify good practice should be audited to ensure consistency in delivery and with a view to producing a directory of available training. Training agencies and trades unions should be encouraged to include strategies to tackle WRV in Health and Safety training as a priority.

Children and Young People

The Scottish Executive should facilitate consideration with Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) of what might be done at school from an early age to inform children of the unacceptability of assaults on people at work. These to be done through a working group, representing all the key players and through the development of appropriate guidance and educational materials.

Reporting and Processing Incidents

The Scottish Executive should facilitate the establishment of an appropriate forum in which concerns about the responses of the criminal justice system to WRV can be aired and the issue of consistency in the reporting of incidents to the police can be addressed. Model guidance on the importance of the reporting of WRV to employers should be agreed and promulgated by the standing committee to encourage the development of consistent and accurate reporting of all instances of abuse.


The Scottish Crime Survey should undertake a regular survey of the level of workplace violence and its cost to industry, commerce and the public sector, the results of which should be published.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The effectiveness of the measures rolled out through this project will be regularly monitored. All initiatives are to be fully rolled out over 3 years and overseen by a Standing Committee to be facilitated jointly by the Scottish Executive, the Scotland Office and the Health and Safety Executive and made up of representatives of all the key players.

Action for Branches

Branches should be aware of the launch of the 'Respect' campaign in September 2004. This will include a TV and poster ad campaign and extensive TV, local radio and press coverage of the issue of WRV.

Branches should also raise with employers the issue of implementing an action plan to tackle WRV and encourage employers to include WRV training as a fundamental component of H& S training.


Further Info:

The Report - ' When the customer isn't right' - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/justice/ppsw-00.asp

UNISON Trauma 2003 Report - http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/trauma2003.html

UNISON Violence at Work a Guide to Risk Prevention - http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/13024.pdf

UNISON Scotland Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill Evidence - http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/emergevid.html

HSE: Work Related Violence - http://www.hse.gov.uk/violence/index.htm

Scottish Executive | Scottish Parliament | Briefings Home



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Further Information
The Report - ' When the customer isn't right' - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/

UNISON Trauma 2003 Report - http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/

UNISON Violence at Work a Guide to Risk Prevention - www.unison.org.uk/

UNISON Scotland Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill Evidence - http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/

HSE: Work Related Violence - http://www.hse.gov.uk/