This is a curious little article in Community Care, based on a national survey done of social work/social care staff around the country. It covers an important topic of the violence that workers in social care encounter during their work.
It gives a useful colour coded map, in which one can use sliders to look at the number of the incidents of violence against social work / social care staff over the last four years.
The grey areas show that none of those surveyed in that area reported any incidents of violence, and then the colours go from yellow, dark yellow, orange through to reds and dark reds. Each colour represents around 150 incidents, and you can click on any individual area to see the total number of reports.
Given what social care professionals have to do in their work, I am slightly surprised that it is not higher – not that I am condoning any of these incidents far from it, but there’s a context of having to make very challenging and emotionally charged decisions and interventions in people’s lives. When you consider the number of people employed in social care and the number of interactions that each of them has with people very single day, even the high end is just a tiny tiny proportion of those interactions. That obviously doesn’t lessen the unpleasantness of any single one.
In nearly 20 years of doing a pretty challenging job in legal, I’ve had one person take a bad swing at me and miss, one throw a table over in court, one massive steroid-assisted bloke with pecs like halved watermelons inform me that if I didn’t get out of his way he would “destroy me”, a delightful chap walk behind me in a corridor at Court and tell me that “If I had a knife in my pocket right now, I could stick it right in your kidneys”.
I can understand the context of why all of those people felt that way about the horrible mess I was making of their lives, but it didn’t stop any of it being very very unpleasant to experience and I remember all of them pretty vividly. And I didn’t actually get struck in any of them.
So all of what follows is absolutely with the understanding that violence in the workplace is a really horrible and potentially traumatising event and that it can’t be acceptable.
All of the gray areas are presumably no reported incidents at all, and that probably represents around a third of the map. The majority of what is left is somewhere between 1 and 300 incidents per year.
But what I found rather intriguing was that there were bands or geographical pockets of the higher end, the orange and red areas that seem to be around 500-1000 reported incidents per year. And some of these cropped up over and over. And they weren’t necessarily the ones that a lazy stereotype might pick out.
The ones for 2012 show those hotspots as being :-
The very North of England – Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland (hold off on your stereotypes for a moment), Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham (leave those stereotypes) and the South East of England, particularly West Sussex. People working around Worthing and Bognor were much more likely to experience violence than those around Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, inner-city London in 2012.
2011 shows North of England, Leeds, a teardrop shape around Sheffield and Nottingham, bits of London and again West Sussex.
2010 show North East of England, the Sheffield/Nottingham teardrop again, bits of London and again West Sussex.
2009 – no red or orange in north of England, or Sheffield/Nottingham, or London. Norfolk is bad, Dorset is bad, and yet again, West Sussex is bad.
Of course, the number of incidents doesn’t tell anything about the seriousness of them. Perhaps the red/orange authorities are more rigorous about reporting and logging incidents that some of the other areas brush off and don’t record.
Maybe not, maybe West Sussex workers should be asking for some danger money.
Another portion on the Community Care story on this shows an infographic illustrating the violence inflicted on such workers – the larger the word, the more frequently it came up in the survey
The heading being “knife throwing” and the sub-heading being “workers tell us what they have been attacked with”
Then you look at the visual image and wince.
When you first look at this, just as I did, the words that leap out at you are Chair, Knife, Thrown, Knives, Hammer, Face, Head, Needle, Glass, Hit, Heavy, Objects Threatened.
Again, without wanting to trivialise this – nobody ought to be physically threatened or harmed when they are doing their job, even in the context of the very emotive nature of the job; when you look a bit closer at the infographic, you see words like
Etc, various, manager, parent, ready , another, support, number
Albeit much smaller. So clearly the graphic is not showing “things that workers have been attacked with” and how frequently such objects were used, but rather the frequency with which certain WORDS were used in the description of events.
Unless it is that social care staff in West Sussex are being hit by another manager for not being ready.
It is an important and serious issue, and for any worker who has gone out to do a difficult job and in the course of a day was threatened or hit with a stick, or a snooker cue, or a knife, that’s absolutely unacceptable and dreadful. I just think one needs to be careful about juxtaposing information like 712 incidents of violence in 2012 in Northumberland with a graphic highlighting the very most serious of such events.
Nonetheless, I think it is an important issue; to look at why these things happen and how they can be reduced and why there are such regional disparities; and I applaud Community Care for highlighting the issue and bringing it to life.