Big increase in assaults on public service workers, says UNISON

Date: Friday 23 October 2015

UNISON Scotland is publishing today (23 October 2015) Violence at Work: A Survey of UNISON employers and Staff in Scotland 2015. It shows an increase of 1,227 assaults compared with 2014.

The total recorded assaults on public sector workers in Scotland in 2015 was 38,279. This compares to 20,000 in 2006.

UNISON report included a survey, to ask what staff had suffered, how they had felt about it, and what action their managers had taken to try to make sure they were safer in the future. Nine out of ten people who responded to this survey were women, and well over half were age between 45 – 60 years old.

UNISON Members told us

  • “patient was verbally abusive and looming over me ”
  • “Bitten, being threatened with ‘weapons’, head butted, kicked, things been thrown at me, verbal abuse, pushed and shoved, cornered with threatening behaviour”
  • “Grabbed, attempted strangle, punched, slapped, glasses broken”
  • “an irate male jumped onto myself while I was seated at a computer”
  • “Screamed and swore at. Items thrown at me. Kicked punched bitten scratched nipped. Hair pulled. Strangled. Pushed, walking sticked wacked across me.”
  • “Too many incidents to describe.”

UNISON members also told us they felt undervalued, frightened, afraid, disrespected and sick. One summed it up as being “really upset and in tears most nights after work.”

Worryingly many members accepted it as “Fine. It’s my job”. Other said they were “mostly sad for the people that  have resorted to violence not great obviously but its my job and sometimes these things happen, we just have to deal with it”

Scott Donohoe chair of UNISON health and safety committee said, “The abuse of staff is intollerable and no one should have to experience it as part of their work.  This level of violence is simply unacceptable. There is no doubt the recording continues to improve, however the problem is clearly growing, rather than decreasing.

Public service workers have a right to carry out their duties free from fear of attack. Whatever the difficulties faced by some of those who are assaulting staff we need to ensure special measures such as extra training, additional staffing or sanctions should be introduced by managers. We would urge employers to follow guidelines like the ones set out in the Centre for Healthy Working LivesManaging occupational violence in the workplace”.


UNISON Contacts

  • Scott Donohoe, chair of  health and safety committee 07866 952765
  • Danny Phillips, communications officer  07944 664 110
  • Dave Watson, head of bargaining and campaigns 07958 122 409


  • Report
  • UNISON is the biggest trade union in Scotland. We are the UK public services union
  • Since 2006, UNISON Scotland has carried out an annual survey of assaults to public sector workers by issuing a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to all employers of UNISON members in the public sector.  This year we included a qualitative survey of members this 2015 survey was carried out from August to October 2015
  • For the qualitative data we received responses from health service workers, council staff, education and social work, community and voluntary sector,  librarians and parking attendants. 88% of our respondents were female,  over 60% were aged between 45 and 65; 39% had experienced physical violence, 43% had been threatened with violence, 65% had been verbally assaulted.