Teachers/other education/welfare - Personnel consultants
This case study focuses on Hampshire County Council's Education Personnel Services (EPS). This is a separate business unit within the Council employing 54 staff, based at offices in Fareham and Winchester.
EPS provides a personnel consultancy service for the Local Education Authority (LEA) and other customers. Its range of services includes employee relations; redeployment and redundancy support; health and safety; and training and development. EPS staff deal with grievance cases, ill health cases, and re-organisation issues.
EPS employees are often required to work alone and outside normal office hours when visiting educational establishments, employees' homes and training venues.
Making home visits to stressed clients: a client may be the subject of disciplinary procedures or may have made a complaint. This can cause heightened emotions. If people are not well, mentally or physically, their behaviour can be unpredictable. Risks associated with travelling: staff sometimes travel for long distances, and in the evening. Verbal abuse and threatening behaviour: this can occur in telephone conversations, face-to-face meetings and in correspondence. Physical assault: this is a low risk but it could happen in particular meetings.
Examples of incidents
- Staff have asked not to visit a particular client's home alone because they have felt concerned for their safety.
- A member of staff was visiting an employee to discuss future job options when the employee's partner appeared and was intimidating.
- Some employees have experienced verbal abuse on the telephone and in face-to-face meetings.
- Some clients are generally aggressive.
Training and information
Training courses and videos: training is not compulsory for EPS staff, although the Council offers relevant in-house training and videos, which staff can use as they wish. These have been well received. Notably, more incidents were reported after staff received training.
Collective professional development sessions: staff discuss violence and lone working during professional development sessions and this is considered as part of their training.
Induction: the induction of new staff covers lone working procedures.
Communication about clients: staff communicate with other colleagues, for example teachers and social services, and alert them about clients who may present a risk of violence.
Reporting system: there is a violent incident record system for all LEA employees as well as EPS staff. All staff are encouraged to report all incidents of physical and verbal abuse. Data are collated at the end of each year.
Personal alarms: these are offered as an option.
Mobile phones: pooled mobile phones are available but most staff have their own mobiles and do not use the pooled phones.
Regular reviews: regular work reviews remind staff of the lone working policies and procedures.
Refusal to visit: staff can refuse to make a visit to a particular client if they feel they may be at risk.
Robust completion of electronic diaries: staff diary entries are transferred weekly to a hard copy contact sheet which is displayed in the office so that the office knows where staff are at a given time. Senior managers encourage rigorous completion of electronic diaries.
'Unfamiliar site' visit sheet: this 'pink sheet' must be completed if a member of staff is visiting an unfamiliar site, usually a client's home. The staff member records details of the visit and the time that they are due back. The sheet is normally placed on the staff member's desk.
Safe return-to-home system: staff must call to let someone know they have returned home safely. This may be a family member, partner, colleague or member of the management team. Staff can also call a manager in the evening if needed. Procedures are in place which staff can follow in the event of a problem.
Less effective measures
Some measures are less effective than others, or may not be applied effectively:
- 'Nobody's perfect' - the various reporting systems rely on staff to fill in diaries and forms etc. Forgetting to do so can make the system fail.
- Communicating information about potentially violent clients is not always done effectively between the wider service providers, for example between the LEA and social services. Improvement in these procedures is therefore needed.
The benefits and the costs
A working system built on consultation: EPS has developed a violence prevention system which staff use and which they were consulted about at the design stage. The system has full support of senior management.
Open door: staff know that they can ask for help and support and are able to raise issues of violence and personal safety with management.
Flexibility: there are rules which staff must follow but the system is flexible - for example personal attack alarms are not compulsory. This seems to be well received by staff.
Immediate action: staff are confident that immediate action will be taken if they are overdue from a lone working visit. The safe-to-home and 'unfamiliar site' systems in particular demonstrate management's commitment to lone workers' safety.
General safety: the measures address lone working issues even in low-risk environments.
Simplicity of design: the system is straightforward and can easily be adapted by other units in the organisation.
When set against an annual income of £1.6 million, the cost of violence prevention measures is negligible:
- Two mobile phones: £150.
- Personal alarms: approximately £200 for around 40 staff.