Public facing workers “deserving of abuse”


By Andrea McCallum

NIGHTCLUB bouncers, call centre workers, parking attendants and receptionists are all considered “legitimate targets” for abuse from members of the public, according to new government research.

Airport workers, police officers, and front-line civil servants are also considered to be “deserving” of abuse whereas firefighters, ambulance crews and nurses are not.

The research involved members of the public putting18 professionals on a scale from “deserving” to “undeserving” when it came to the legitimacy of attacks.

Nightclub bouncers topped the “deserving” poll with traffic wardens, cold-callers, doctors’ receptionists, police, airport staff and call centre staff also listed.

Paramedics, ambulance crews and firefighters headed the “undeserving” list alongside restaurant staff, supermarket checkout staff, nurses and railway staff.

The “public-facing” workers are now being offered a new guide to help them avoid verbal or physical attacks from the public.

Workers who deal with the public will be able to use the guide made by Healthy Working Lives Scotland – which advises the government on health and safety issues.

NHS Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress have backed the guide which claims that one in ten public-facing workers are physically assaulted and 38 per cent verbally abused each year.

And according to the research attacks on local government workers increased by 3,000 between 2007 and 2008.

The guide said: “Disturbingly, research carried out demonstrated that the public regard some public-facing workers as legitimate targets, believing this ‘goes with the job’.

“The impact of being on the receiving end of repeated insults and verbal abuse can be as significant as being physically assaulted, and can contribute to long term health problems such as stress and depression.”

Kathy Jenkins, secretary of the Scottish Hazards Campaign which helped compile the guide, said: “We have to start looking at the reasons why some public-facing workers are facing increased levels of aggression from the public.

“Our campaign is about getting people home at the end of their working day safe and well. To do that, sometimes employers have to change the way we work.”

Ms Jenkins added that aggression sometimes comes from genuine feelings of powerlessness or frustration.

She said: “If we can limit that, life is better for everyone concerned.

“For example, if call centre staff are encouraged by their employers to keep on talking to people when they are clearly not interested, that behaviour is more likely to engender an aggressive response.

“It would be better for all concerned if call centre staff were given the power to end a call if it is causing frustration for the customer.

“It is all about creating new ways of working that take account of how members of the public might react. It’s a win-win situation for workers if service users are listened to and have their views taken into account, as they are less likely to act in an aggressive manner.”

NSL – a private firm which provides attendants for Edinburgh City Council – said there were 108 physical and verbal attacks in the 12 months to November last year.

Tim Cowen, a spokesman for NSL, said: “As far as we are concerned, one assault is one too many, and nobody should have to put up with that simply because of the job they do.

“In the past, understandably, many of our on-street team may have been reluctant to report more minor incidents of verbal abuse – but we believe every incident should be reported so we can get a true picture and take action where necessary.

“We have also signed a partnership deal with Lothian and Borders Police this year, and the police have pledged greater support for us in terms of reducing assaults.”