Violence against public service workers doubled in a decade, says UNISON

UNISON’s annual Violence at Work Survey 2016 is launched today (Friday 21 October)  at UNISON health and safety conference at the University of Stirling. It shows a rise of 20,000 to 40,000 violent assaults per year in the last decade (2006 to 2016), against public service workers in Scotland. With a significant increase in violent assaults against local authority workers.

UNISON has carried out this survey – Violent Assaults on Public Service Staff in Scotland – every year since 2006. This is the first time we have recorded more than 40,000 assaults.

Some increases reflect greater awareness of the problem and better reporting – these reports do have anomalies every year. Employers can also, for various reasons, change the way they report violence at work which can affect the outcome. However the doubling of reported incidents in decade cannot be explained just by better awareness and reporting. Violence against workers happens too often and must be addressed by employers and government.

The significant rise in violent incidence in local authorities, is after a few years of seeing the figures drop. Over the last year assaults against local government workers has risen by 4,399 from 13,206 to 17,605 – with Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, Midlothian, Perth and Kinross, Shetland and Stirling – all reporting significant increases.

All workers who deal with the public are at risk. Care workers are twice the national average risk of assault and nurses four times. The school workforce, such as teaching assistants, are suffer consistent high levels of assaults. These are, mostly, a female workforce.

In the community and voluntary sector, although most said their employer encouraged the reporting of violent incidents, worryingly 83% said that their employer regarded the violence as ‘part of the job’.

Scott Donohue, UNISON chair of health and safety committee said, ‘Violence against public service workers has increased, with significant increases against local authority workers. We cannot ignore a doubling of the figures over 10 years.

It is also reasonable to make the correlation between the swingeing cuts to councils and increase in violence to council workers. Staff tell us if you have to wait longer, or the service you need is no longer available, or a support worker has less time to spent with a client, it’s being taken out on those working face to face with the public.’

We need to continue to understand the general upward trend. However, from this survey and what our members tell us the debate should not just be about how we most accurately report violence at work, but how we eliminate violence altogether. At very least, councils should fully implement the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives guidelines 2010, in order that we can make the level of violent assaults fall across Scotland.’


UNISON Contacts

  • Scott Donohue, chair UNISON health and safety committee, 07866 952765
  • Dave Watson, head of policy, 07958 122409
  • Danny Phillips, communications officer, 07944 664110