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It has become clear in the last few years that there needs to be a radical increase in support towards social workers undertaking lone working hours. A survey, conducted with over 200 Social Workers, has highlighted the increasingly apparent problems surrounding arrangements in which staff are expected to work alone. The survey also draws particular attention to visitation safety, training practices, and managerial responsibility.
Dwindling supply of financial resources
This comes as little surprise when local authorities across the country are battling a plethora of issues—both social and financial—and as a result, organisations are strapped for cash. A result of this dwindling supply of financial resources seems to be an increased reliance on employees to work hours alone. From the responses gauged by the survey, lone working responsibilities have been seen to increase in the past year, with 71% of Social Workers stating that they had observed an increase.
51-75% of their time working alone without immediate access to support.
In fact, the majority (30%) of Social Workers say that they spend 51-75% of their time working alone without immediate access to support from a colleague. The lowest amount of Social Workers, totalling at 18%, said that they spend between none and 25% of their time without secondary support. Furthermore, a large majority of 77% state that lone working and risk assessments are a standard item on team/business meeting agenda.
Yet, despite this increase, the collected data suggests that current lone working arrangements are inadequate and unsafe. What is necessary is that lone worker responsibilities should be organised in a standardised, and more importantly, safe manner that benefits not only referees, but the workers who are at risk of a violent attack. Violent attacks are not uncommon towards Social Workers, in fact the survey results showed while just under half (44%) of respondents have experienced an incident whilst lone working, while just over half (56%) state they have not witnessed an incident. In response to this, it is imperative that swift change is implemented.
Safety measures currently in place are sporadic.
In the survey, workers reported that the safety measures currently in place are sporadic and un-standardised. Many reported that their only safety equipment was their mobile phone or that they use no safety equipment whatsoever. Although some stated that they were equipped with personal alarms, cameras or rota systems, these responses were in the significant minority.
Furthermore, a large majority of workers have not been given training on de-escalation techniques, with 69% saying they had received no such skill preparation. Understandably, with these statistics in mind, the risk of dangerous situations during lone work becomes more apparent.
Beyond the face-to-face aspects of residential visits, consensus seems to be that current practice in management also requires some significant change. According to the survey, just over half of line managers are always aware of where Social Workers are located once outside of an office setting, whilst 48% of workers reported their manger was not always aware of their location. However, at 81%, the clear majority of line managers have access to emergency contact details such as mobile number, home address and car details, if an emergency situation arises. Although it is necessary for managers to have access to emergency information, it is not a preventative measure and does not assist worker safety during visits.
Social Worker unsure of where and how to access safety policies.
Most Social work settings were reported to have lone work policies and risk assessments at 73% of workers stating that their workplace does. However, some responses point out that although their workplace does have relevant policy and risk assessments, they are unsure of where and how to access them.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of Social Workers do not believe that they receive adequate information in relation to risk history when a person is referred for care. A low 25% however, do believe they receive adequate information.
These results come just after the recent tragic death of Belinda Rose, a Social Worker from Birmingham, who was stabbed to death by a resident in late August during a home visit. Belinda’s death further highlights not only the danger that lone Social Workers are put in, but also a dire need to upgrade the support currently offered to workers when working alone, and to invest in the safety measures that have been needed for quite some time. It is the responsibility of social care organisations to work to prevent further tragedies happening in the future.
The news also arrives as on the 4th of September, a cross-party group of MPs have called for a radical rehaul of the current social care sector. Labour MP Louise Haigh put forward her remarks that the sector’s current workforce is “chronically under-valued, exploited and degraded”.
Through the survey, the effectiveness of lone work has been called into question as consensus on its effect power is divided. The majority of workers (34%) believe that lone working hours are neither effective nor ineffective. Meanwhile, 28% believe that lone working is effective, and 21% believe that it is ineffective.
Again, the feeling of safety among Social Workers is also fairly divided. The majority of Social Workers feel neither safe nor unsafe during lone work, at 38%. While those who feel safe comes in at 33%, and those who feel unsafe at 22%. Social Workers who felt very safe sits at 4% and those who felt very unsafe at 3%.
Lone work needs significant improvement and staff need adequate training.
To summarise, the combination of risk at work, increase in lone work, unsatisfactory practices, as well as other points raised by the survey, have helped to highlight the current problems in lone work. What is clear is that the current environment in which workers conduct lone work needs significant improvement and staff need adequate training. The measures put in place are not representative of or preventative towards the danger and risk workers are laid open to during each visit.