The TUC report, Violent Times, suggests one in five workers are likely to be attacked or verbally abused this year. It reveals that one in three nurses have been violently attacked or abused at work, closely followed by security workers (one in four) and employees in care homes (one in five).
The report also shows that younger women are most likely to be assaulted in the workplace, 11% of women aged 25-34 had suffered a physical attack compared to 6% of men in the same age group.
Violence at work is clearly a major problem for anyone whose work brings them into contact with the public. In November last year social worker Jenny Morrison was stabbed to death by a patient, and an airline worker was attacked with a broken bottle which left her permanently scarred. But being on the receiving end of aggression from members of the public is an everyday occurrence for many workers, says the report.
TUC general secretary John Monks said: 'Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and if they are found to be negligent by a court they could face big damages payouts. Unions are increasingly prepared to act in these circumstances as concern grows about the epidemic of workplace violence. It is just as important for employers to protect their workers from violence as they would deal with any other threat to health and safety.'
The TUC argues that the law is already in place to protect workers but that some employers believe that because violence is unpredictable, nothing can be done to prevent it from happening. The TUC is calling on employers to consult and work with trade unions to:
* assess the risks of violence to their staff
* take steps to prevent or minimise violence or protect employees from it
* ensure that, when violent attacks do occur, they are recorded, and the victims receive appropriate assistance.
Although Violent Times looks at workers in a wide variety of employment settings, the report identifies several factors common to all work sectors. In many cases a lack of training leaves staff vulnerable when it comes to dealing with aggressive people, managers are often unsympathetic when staff are attacked, and adequate support is only rarely provided.
Violent Times contains details of many instances where people have been attacked including:
. Denise Crerar a nurse who now trains care assistants in a range of homes for long-term care, and who constantly witnesses abusive scenes between patients and their carers - foul language, pinching, scratching and throwing things are all commonplace.
. A worker in a rural job centre near Durham who was knocked unconscious when assaulted by a claimant.
. Don Stephenson who works on the London Underground in East London, and who, following an attack from an irate passenger, was so severely injured that he was off work for five months.
Some employers are already responding to the dangers posed by workplace violence.
. The Isle of Wight Care NHS Trust has undertaken an audit to gauge when exactly most violent incidents take place, run training courses to enable staff to recognise the danger signs and redesigned patient waiting areas to minimise stress and tension.