Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Blame the victims

"Too many housing associations do not support the victims of workplace violence, says John Gray"
Below is an opinion piece I wrote for Inside Housing last week (it is behind a paywall). I think you will find the same thing in many other sectors.

"Blame the victims 

As the secretary of a large Unison housing branch which represents members in over 140 different employers, why is it that some organisations report relatively high assaults and other incidents of violence at work, while similar ones report little or none?

"With the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP there can be no one who is not aware of the consequences of violence at work."

Is it really because the employers who don't report assaults are so well run that their staff are never threatened or attacked? Or perhaps the truth is that too many employers don't support staff that are assaulted, discourage reporting and don't bother investigating attacks and near-misses.

To be clear, only a tiny minority of our residents are in any way a threat to staff, but we do have to deal with drug and alcohol problems, anti-social behaviour, evictions, gangs, domestic violence and other potential hazards.

Some managers will even blame staff who report assaults for "lack of professionalism" and in some way "allowing" themselves to be hurt. Sometimes staff have so little confidence in management to actually do anything about assaults that they say "why bother?".  The demonisation by the media of "elf 'n safety" as being in some way unnecessary and bureaucratic.

Since it is clear that there is, at best, massive under-reporting of assaults, what can be done about it? Here are five key points for a start:

1. Chief executives and senior management teams ought to realise that they have a clear duty to make sure that they have an effective health and safety system in place, and that if they don't have a real reporting, monitoring and investigating process in place then they are clearly failing in that duty.

2. If something does "go wrong" then they may face imprisonment and unlimited personal fines for breaching health and safety regulations.

3. They should make sure that they employ sufficient safety advisers and make sure that joint union and management safety committees happen, and encourage union safety reps to check risk assessments and investigate incidents. 

4. The regulator should be stepping in. If an organisation is not reporting assaults and complying with the law, then what other things are they not reporting or not complying with?

5. The Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, the Local Government Association and the unions should be working together in partnership to educate, train, monitor and encourage compliance by all employers, managers and staff.

None of the above is rocket science. None of the above is impossible to achieve. This is just having sensible policies and making sure they are actually working and in place. Last week with the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP there can be no one who is now not aware of the potential risks and consequences of violence at work.

John Gray, housing association branch secretary, Unison

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