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More Than a Third of Public Sector Staff Violently Attacked or Threatened at Work

More Than a Third of Public Sector Staff Violently Attacked or Threatened at Work

More than a third of public sector staff have been violently attacked or threatened at work, a new study has found.

Teachers, nurses and the emergency services were among those surveyed about life on the frontline, with more than one in 10 admitting they had suffered physical abuse.  

Punches were thrown in over half of the attacks, which also involved kicking, slapping and spitting. Others reported someone attempting to strangle them, weapons being used and sexual assault.

Eleven per cent suffered broken bones and of those hospitalised, seven per cent needed more than a month to recover before they were discharged.

Worryingly, almost nine out of 10 of those attacked said it had happened on more than one occasion.

A further 18 per cent had witnessed a colleague being attacked, with a fifth too scared to step in and help.

Almost a quarter of those asked had been threatened at work.

The research was carried out by injury at work specialists from law firm Slater and Gordon, who say they have seen an increase in cases involving violence against those in the public sector. Over 2,000 employees were surveyed, including 1,000 public sector staff.

More than half blamed cutbacks for putting them at risk by making their job more dangerous.

Two thirds of nurses had experienced violence or threats while on duty. In education, one in four teachers had been threatened and 13 per cent had been attacked.

Members of the public were responsible for around 90 per cent of all physical attacks. The remainder was committed by other colleagues – although compared to the public sector, staff in the private sector were three times more likely to be assaulted by someone they worked with.

Overall, private sector workers were around 10 per cent less likely to be threatened, attacked or witness an attack.

Tracey Benson, an expert in employers’ liability at Slater and Gordon, said: “It is completely unacceptable for workers to be threatened or subjected to physical or verbal abuse while simply doing their jobs. But it’s particularly appalling that the majority of attacks are committed by the public on the people who go to work to help us.

“The fact we are seeing an increase in the number of cases of this kind is extremely alarming.”  

A third of those physically attacked said they were also regularly subjected to vile racist abuse, while almost 80 per cent had to put up with offensive language.

Of 1,000 public sector workers, 49 per cent agreed that threats from the public were now just a part of the job and more than a third said they no longer always felt safe at work.  

Almost a fifth said they had faced physical abuse and more than 55 per cent had experienced aggressive or intimidating behaviour.

Half of those who had suffered a physical assault, said their employer hadn’t done enough to support them and more than one in five people who had been attacked or witnessed a colleague being attacked had considered quitting altogether.

More than a quarter suffered anxiety as a result, with 11 per cent developing depression and one in 20 reporting post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ms Benson added: “All employers have a duty of care to look after the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff and their top priority should be providing a safe workplace.

“The Health and Safety Executive has clear guidelines on what employers are required by law to do.

“If staff feel they are at risk, they should be listened to and taken seriously and everything reasonably practicable done to try and resolve their concerns.”

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