Safety fears for social workers

A FORMER senior councillor has called for formal training to be given to Borders social work staff after the revelation that, in the first eight months of this year, there were just under 100 recorded physical or violent incidents involving social work staff on duty.

David Raw (Berwickshire West), who stood down last year as Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for social work because of ill health, says his local authority must be more proactive in equipping employees to deal with, and hopefully prevent, acts of violence and aggression against them.

At a full council meeting, Councillor Raw, who has recently recovered from a liver transplant operation, acknowledged the “tireless campaigning” on personal safety issues by Diana Lamplugh, who died on August 18, aged 75.

Mrs Lamplugh founded the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in 1986 after the disappearance of her 25-year-old estate agent daughter who had gone to meet an un-named client. Her body was never found and she was declared dead, presumed murdered, in 1994.

He recalled how, in the early days of SBC in the mid 1990s, Mrs Lamplugh had addressed a meeting of social work professionals in Kelso on issues of safety for social care staff.

Addressing Councillor Frances Renton, his Lib Dem successor as executive member for social care and health, Mr Raw asked: “Given that a recent national survey showed 90 per cent of social workers had been attacked at some time in their career and that more social workers than police have been killed on duty over the last 10 years, what reporting mechanisms exist to record incidents of violence and threats of violence to staff?”

Councillor Renton said her department was “keenly aware” of staff safety issues and recognised the specialist nature of the work they undertook to support people with complex, challenging behaviour on a day-to-day basis.

She claimed SBC took active steps to support staff at corporate and departmental levels.

“All line managers are required to carry out assessments to identify the risks in relation to lone working, personal safety and violence and aggression, and this is done through the council’s risk assessment policy which includes a specific section on lone working,” said Councillor Renton.

“Procedures are in place in local offices for staff to log in and out, while out-of-hours Bordercare offers a monitoring service.

“SBC also has an accident reporting procedure ... all staff are encouraged to report all incidents of violence and aggression, including physical and verbal violence, as well as threatening and intimidating behaviour, to their line manager who is responsible for carrying out an investigation of the incident, identifying what actions are required or additional control measures.

“I can inform Councillor Raw that during the first eight months of this year there were just under 100 recorded physical/violent incidents on staff in social work delivering services on behalf of this council.

“Whilst every one of these is one too many, SBC experiences a significantly lower level of assault compared with other Scottish local authorities.”

She cited a Scottish Executive survey from 2005 which identified an average 321 recorded assaults on staff per authority per year.

“In addition, this council recognises the emotional effect such incidents can have on staff and, while aiming to limit these incidents, also offers a confidential counselling service for staff when that is required.”

Mr Raw said he was not satisfied the council was doing as much as it could to protect social work employees, particularly those in a lone working, customer-facing role.

“I mentioned Diana Lamplugh because the trust she formed offers courses specifically tailored by a nationwide network of training consultants to the kind of situations in which our dedicated staff are most at risk.

“I agree that every act of aggression against a member of our staff is one too many, but the current policy seems geared towards what happens after an incident rather than towards proactive prevention of a potential tragedy.

“Formal training for our staff must be the way to go.”