Whilst some people may argue that the risk factor to social workers is “just a part of the job”, it is important for any employee to feel safe at work. Attempts to normalise violence in the workplace should be reduced and appropriate steps should always be taken to support employees who have been involved in a violent incident as part of their job.
Health and Safety at Work
As part of the Health and Safety at Work Act (an overview can be seen here), employers have a duty of care toward all of their employees. They must take steps to mitigate risks wherever possible. If a client is deemed to pose a threat to staff members, then every step must be taken to eliminate the risk or reduce the risk to the lowest possible level. Staff should also be given the correct training on how to react in the event of serious or imminent danger. Failing to provide this training or taking adequate risk mitigation strategies can mean that an employer is in breach of the HSWA and they could be liable for prosecution or a large fine.
As part of the HSWA, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests a 5 step approach to risk reduction;
- look for any hazards;
- decide who could be harmed and how;
- assess the risks and decide on precautions;
- record the findings and then implement them;
- and then review the assessment and update it if it’s necessary.
If you have been attacked in the workplace and you do not think that your employer took adequate steps such as those listed above, then you may be able to make a claim for compensation.
What to do if you have been attacked
If you are attacked, you should always seek assistance in the first instance. Notify the police about the incident and get medical attention. Even if you do not feel as though the incident was serious, you should still visit the doctor so that they can assess your injuries. They may want to make sure that you have not been affected by any hidden biological or chemical threats. This is particularly important if you were spat at or scratched during the assault.
Make sure that you report the incident to your workplace immediately. They should work with you to create a thorough report about what happened. This report should then be used to take appropriate actions against the perpetrator and can be used as evidence by the police if necessary. Your organisation should also use this report to help to support other social workers in the organisation if they need to interact with the same client again in future. Risk minimisation steps which are taken in future can include; only visiting the particular client with a police presence, or only interacting with that client at the central office. It may not be appropriate for you to continue working with that particular client in the future, and therefore your case may be handed to one of your colleagues. This is not a reflection on your skills as a social worker.
The next course of action may depend on what happened during the incident. After a violent assault, most social work organisations will arrange counselling or time off of work to recover. Counselling can help you to deal with the psychological effects of a physical attack and therefore it is a good idea to take it up if it is offered to you. Talking about an incident with a professional is a good way to express your feelings about the incident.
Making a claim for compensation
If you feel that you have been injured in the workplace because your employer failed to take adequate precautions, then you may be able to file a claim for compensation. A personal injury lawyer should be able to tell you whether you have a valid claim. Many claims professionals are able to offer a free consultation session in the first instance.
If you do not want to take action against your employer or if you feel that they took the right steps to protect you, you may still be able to get compensation for your injuries. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) helps in compensation claims from individuals who have suffered physically or mental injuries by a criminal act, such as an assault. It is normally only possible to make a claim though CICA if you have brought charges against the person, or people, who assaulted, threatened or harassed you. The CICA website contains a lot of information about how to make a criminal compensation claim. The police may also be able to offer you some support and advice.