There is no doubt that emergency service workers are a crucial part of today’s society. Whether responding to a medical emergency, fire or crime scene, they provide life-saving services on a daily basis.
However, the type of work they do, and high-stress environments they enter, exposes emergency service personnel to aggression, violence and abuse from patients and members of the public.
Earlier this month it emerged that violence against police has nearly tripled over the last 5 years, while a 2016 study revealed that over a third of public sector staff have been violently attacked or threatened while at work. Incidents range anywhere from verbal insults to being spat at, bitten, punched, kicked, sexually abused, stabbed, strangled or attacked with a weapon.
In a recent attack earlier this year, a paramedic had a noxious substance thrown in her face while answering a 999 call in London. The emergency service worker was responding to call from a man with chest pain at 1.30am when she was flagged down by three men who appeared to be in distress.
As she approached, the men pulled bandanas over their faces and threw liquid from a plastic bottle through the ambulance window. The paramedic was taken to hospital where luckily the substance was found not to be acid, although it did cause irritation to the skin.
The proposed Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, will double the maximum sentence for common assaults from 6 months to a year if committed against an emergency worker while they are on duty.
The legislation also creates the power to take blood samples – with consent – from those who have bitten or spat at emergency workers, exposing them to risk of infection. Under the legislation, the failure to provide a blood sample without good cause will be considered an offence.
The bill will cover attacks on police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance staff.
Proposed by Labour MP Chris Bryant, the bill has been backed by the Ministry of Defence, Home Office, Police Federation and Prison Officer’s Association and is expected to receive support from the House of Commons.
Why is the bill important?
‘Part of the job’
Sadly, violence at work is often considered just ‘part of the job’ and many employees do not even report an attack made against them. Yet experiencing aggression and violence at work can have detrimental effects on both the physical and mental health of those involved.
More than a quarter of public sector workers reported suffering from anxiety as a result of violence, with 11% developing depression and one in 20 reporting post-traumatic stress disorder. Such experiences can leave staff feeling afraid and uncomfortable at work, affecting their overall well-being, job satisfaction and ultimately, productivity.
While there are steps that can and should be taken to reduce the risk of aggression and violence towards staff, the new Bill sends a clear message that violence is not accepted at work and should not be seen as ‘part of the job’. Communicating that the government and legal system take such attacks seriously, will hopefully encourage more employees to report attacks to their employer or the police so that steps can be taken to overcome the issues of violence experienced by emergency service workers.
The increase of lone working
With an increasing number of emergency service employees working alone, it has never been more important to take safety seriously and crack down on violence and aggression towards staff.
While it has been common for healthcare staff to work alone for some time, single crewing has been introduced within the police force more recently. Instead of traditionally sending police out in pairs, officers are being sent alone to patrol the streets and respond to calls.
This move has led to officers starting an online petition against single crewing, and with an attack against a police officer occurring every 13 seconds somewhere in the country, and officers experiencing abuse 19 times a year on average, this is no surprise.
For many industries, working alone is not in itself dangerous but in an industry where the risk of violence and aggression is high, risk assessments must be used to determine whether working alone is safe, and steps put in place to protect anyone working alone.
As an employer there are a few simple steps you can take:
- Risk assessment
Assess whether it is safe to send employees out alone, taking into consideration the situation and area they are responding to.
- Develop a violence at work policy
Following on from your risk assessment, you should develop a policy that tackles the identified risks. This could include a number of measures such as sending employees out in pairs when responding to a high-risk situation or implementing extra training and equipment to your workforce
Ensure you are clear that aggression and violence is not an acceptable part of the job and employee wellbeing is a top priority for the business
Encourage your employees to report any incidents no matter how small
Provide training to all frontline employees on handling aggression and violence
Consider providing counselling services for anyone who has been a victim of aggression and violence while at work. As an employer, it is also your responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of your employees.
- Implement lone worker alarms or devices
If you have frontline employees who work alone, it is key that they are able to signal for help when faced with aggression or violence. Consider devices that offer a discreet panic and duress pin.