Monday, June 23, 2008

“Tackling Violence & Aggression at Work”

During conference lunch break on the Thursday, there was the official health & safety fringe. The extremely well attended meeting was chaired by Nick Green, who is the chair of UNISON lay health & safety committee. There were two speakers, Robert Baughan (left), national UNISON officer and David Tucker QC (right), a criminal barrister with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Robert used the occasion to launch the new UNISON guide on tackling work related violence called “Its Not Part of the Job”. This booklet is a step by step guide for safety reps on how to deal with this major occupational hazard. The emphasis is on getting the issue recognised, developing a policy and PREVENTION. There are some pretty useful case studies across the public sector to refer to. One thing that set me thinking is that Robert made a convincing case for any sick leave resulting from violence should be treated different under the company sickness absence policy? I have never argued this before.

David Tucker is not what you imagine a typical senior government barrister to be. He started off with a joke about a suspect who was being interviewed by Police and asked “had you stolen these pigs?” “No, they are Kosher” he replied (allegedly). The jokes didn’t get that better, but I did enjoy his introduction to the audience of the CPS complaints procedure booklet, which he dramatically threw over his shoulder to the back of the hall saying “you don’t need that do you”.

More seriously he explained in detail the “points to prove” if the CPS are to successfully prosecute someone for assaulting a hospital worker or other anyone else at work. There is a new offence of “causing a nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises” (section 119-121) which frankly had so many separate points to prove that he thought it unlikely that it would be used that often. But is does include a power to remove someone who is causing a nuisance or disturbance by approved and trained staff.

Often assailants who have mental health problems are not prosecuted because Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone must “understand” what is happening to them if they are to be charged. There is no general immunity for those with mental health issues. David did think that some sort of action is necessary in these circumstances, not least to set “boundaries” for patients or clients.

The CPS does not operate a “zero tolerance” policy; rather they “evaluate the need to prosecute”. Which is actually at odds with the new UNISON guide which states that our members expect a “zero tolerance” approach (page 5)?

At the rather rushed Q&A at the end, David had a very hard time from a Police civilian station officer (UNISON organises amongst Police civilian staff outside London) who was desperately upset and angry with the whole criminal justice system, which she believes does not protect workers or properly punishes violent criminals. I did manage to ask him a question about whether organisations which obstruct or even prevents staff that has been assaulted from reporting these crimes to the Police, should be prosecuted themselves? But I don’t think he had time to answer it.

It was really nice to see UNSION National Health & Safety officer, Hope Daily at the fringe. Quite a few years ago now, both of us completed the year long TUC Certificate in Occupational Health & Safety with the WEA. On the course was also a fellow “Buckley mug” and mustard keen GMB safety rep, Idwal, who was an ex-RSM with the Welsh Guards, a Falklands veteran and a serving Beefeater at the Tower of London! Not your average trade union safety rep!

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