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Protect Yourself by Protecting Your Staff

Public Sector Staff Statistics

This article discusses the importance of lone worker welfare considering the rise in employer convictions for failure to keep staff safe at work.

Most of us will have experienced the aggressive selling techniques used by the new wave of ‘no-win-no-fee’ lawyers, fuelled by the recent PPI scandal and changes to personal injury law.  There is now a much greater public awareness of the right to claim compensation from others, and from an employer, for financial loss, injury or attack. 

At the same time, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are seeing increasing success of prosecutions for failing to keep staff safe at work, with the average fine now almost £150,000.

Recently, a gas company was fined over £1m after 2 employees were injured in a gas explosion. The director of a housebuilding firm was also jailed for 4 years for corporate manslaughter following the death of a worker.

These cases graphically illustrate why those who manage staff must be fully aware of the liability facing their organisation and themselves when it comes to the safety of their staff.

Increasingly, as more millennials enter the workforce, working patterns are becoming more flexible. New technology makes it easier for staff to spend more time working alone, from home, or while travelling.  

Some councils are actively requiring staff to work alone. Shropshire Council have just told staff they must work from home one day a month to help control costs. The Local Government Association calculates councils are facing a collective £3bn funding gap by 2025 just to keep services at current levels.

Whether driven by a need to control costs or to help improve productivity, more staff working alone brings significant additional risks for both organisations and individual managers.

Assessing and managing health and safety risks in an office environment is straightforward for managers. When it comes to staff who work alone, and away from the office, it is much more difficult for managers to anticipate the wider spectrum of risks staff may face.

It is estimated that 20% of the UK workforce are lone workers, and every day more than 150 are subjected to verbal or physical attacks.

The risks are greater in the public sector. The table below shows Social Care Professionals are almost 5 times more likely to experience violence while at work than other occupations.

Occupations

% Experiencing Violence at Work

Directors & Managers

1.8

Professional Occupations

1.4

Social Care & Services

6.1

Administrative & Secretarial

0.8

Skilled Trades

0.5

Leisure

1.5

Sales

1.1

Machine Operators

1.1

All Occupations

1.3

Source: ONS Crime Survey

Research also suggests up to 50% of public sector staff who work alone do not feel their employer checks on their welfare.

The Government and HSE have done a great deal to raise awareness of the risks to staff from attacks, help employers manage risks, and establish a legal duty of care to ensure staff are kept safe.  Despite this, instances of violence at work have not reduced over the past decade, as you might expect.

Recent figures also show HSE issued 137 improvement or prohibition notices to public sector organisations.  There were 43 prosecution cases, with an 84% conviction rate and over £3 million in total fines (over £88,000 per conviction).

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a legal duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your staff. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to assess the risks to your employees and take measures to reduce the risks. These legal duties include protecting employees from exposure to reasonably foreseeable violence at work - both physical and verbal.

Some managers also feel an ethical duty to support and protect their staff. Whether driven by this, or the need to avoid fines and the bad publicity when it goes wrong, there are a few key practical you can take to keep on the right side of the law.

More information is available here on how you can protect yourself by protecting your staff.

 

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