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January 21, 2010

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Violence towards people at work rises by almost 12 per cent

Workers in England and Wales were subjected to hundreds of thousands of physical assaults and threats of violence last year, according to an analysis of the British Crime Survey by the HSE.

Estimates from the 2008/09 Survey, published in July 2009, indicated that 176,000 workers were threatened with violence, and 168,000 were subject to an actual assault by members of the public. The total number of victims represents an increase of 11.6 per cent on the previous yearÍs figure of 293,000.

In terms of RIDDOR-reported injuries, violence was the cause of 6160 cases of harm, including four fatalities, 928 major injuries, and 5228 over-three-day injuries.

Despite the magnitude of these figures, the analysis by HSE statisticians of the BCS findings found that the risk of being a victim of actual or threatened violence at work is low: just 1.4 per cent of working adults were the victims of one or more violent incidents at work last year. The total of 626,000 incidents of violence recorded in 2008/09 (around 36 per cent of the individuals targeted were repeat victims) represents a reduction of 55 per cent on the peak of 1,404,000 experienced in 1995.

Those in the “protective service” occupations, such as police officers, were most at risk, with 9 per cent having experienced one, or more incidents of actual or threatened violence in the course of their work. Health professionals and those working in social welfare were also frequently targeted.

Men were slightly more likely to be victims of violence at work than women (1.5 per cent and 1.3 per cent, respectively), while the highest-risk age groups were 35-44 for men and 55-64 for women.

Commenting on the figures, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The recession has undoubtedly been a key reason for the rise in physical assaults. Greater levels of stress and a rise in activities such as shoplifting have led to an increase in violence against workers. The changes to licensing laws have caused more attacks on emergency workers, transport workers, and bar staff.”

He did, however, acknowledge the significant drop in assaults over the last ten years, and praised the joint efforts being undertaken by unions and employers to address the issue in such sectors as health care and retail.

The scale of attacks on staff in the latter recently prompted a Scottish MP to introduce a Bill in the country’s parliament to afford shopworkers the same protection from assault as front-line emergency personnel. In the health service, meanwhile, the number of reported assaults on NHS staff in 2008/09 may have decreased slightly but there are strong concerns about the lack of action taken against perpetrators of violence.

A spokesperson for health-service union Unison told SHP last year: “We are disappointed at the low number of prosecutions of those who attack NHS staff, and at the leniency of the sentences when they do come to court.”

Concluded Brendan Barber: “Whatever the circumstances, there must be zero tolerance of any act of abuse or aggression against a person who is engaged in their job. Employers and the Police must ensure that action is taken against those that threaten or assault employees.”

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