This week we are talking about staying safe when lone working in the social housing sector. We already have a guide to the sector with some handy tips that you can read here. This post will go a little bit more in-depth to the types of job roles in the sector and the particular hazards.
Social Housing – An Assault Every 35 Minutes
Social housing, provided by housing associations and local councils provides a vital service to the people of the UK. With affordable housing becoming scarce, social housing provides shelter to those who can’t afford private rent, to buy their own property, and in a lot of cases a home for the most vulnerable people in society.
However, for various reasons staff who work for housing associations can face some challenging situations.
Research published by Inside Housing in 2015 showed that the average number of physical assaults on social housing employees has increased six-fold since 2008. The industry survey found an increase from 1.3 assaults per organisation in 2007/08 to 7.9 in 2013/14 (physical assaults averaged out)
Again, when the survey was conducted in 2017, the figures had risen again. The data showed 3,566 assaults (both physical and verbal) carried out against social housing staff in 2016/17. Averaged out between the number of social housing landlords in the UK, it works out about one assault every 35 working minutes. Of these incidents, 3,327 were verbal and 239 were physical assaults.
A survey by the Guardian in 2015 also reported that social housing workers suffer from longer working hours and increased levels of stress.
One Director at a housing association said: “When you are so reliant on people who are paid welfare benefits, any changes or cuts impact on us. We work with some of the most vulnerable people and supporting them can sometimes be particularly stressful, especially with such huge cuts to public services that they often rely on.”
Other staff who responded to the survey also cited the emotional toll of working with tenants struggling to cope with money as a cause of stress.
Lone Working in Social Housing – a Clear Risk
So given the information above, we know that in the social housing sector there is a clear risk. This comes from frazzled staff trying to support people who are vulnerable not only financially, but who may also have mental health issues, drug/alcohol dependencies, or disabilities.
No wonder the assault statistics are so high. Of course, this isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom working in the housing sector. many people, especially support workers, find the work incredibly rewarding.
Serious incidents are rare but employers in the sector need to be aware of and prepared for the worst. Especially when it comes to dealing with not so nice situations, such as eviction.
Back in 2013, a housing officer was seriously injured when she was shot at by a tenant whilst attending an eviction. As reported by the Telegraph, a bailiff was shot in the leg and a female housing officer was injured when the tenant opened fire at a flat in Brixton, south London.
There are other high profile cases of social housing tenants killing support staff, such as the death of Phillip Eason who was stabbed to death while visiting a client at a “care in the community” home.
These are extreme examples but show that there is a clear and consistent risk.
Protecting Lone Workers in Housing Associations
These example show why bosses at housing associations should, and in most cases do, make staff safety a priority.
Several measures can be taken to avoid incidents altogether or at least ensure that staff can access the right help in an emergency, quickly.
One of these measures is providing workers in the sector with lone worker devices. In addition to a diarised schedule, a lone worker device enables staff to ‘check-in’ at their tenant visits with a short message and an expected finish time. the most important feature of these devices is the ability to press one button to call for help when it’s needed.
In addition to lone worker devices, staff should also be adequately trained to be able to handle the types of situations they can encounter. This includes dynamic risk assessment training and courses in defusing hostile situations. The latter is particularly important; most times a situation that has the potential to turn nasty can be calmed down by a knowledgeable, well-trained employee.
Of course, the ideal situation is that staff at housing associations don’t have to be put in potentially risky situations at all. For example, some tenants or areas may be deemed too high risk for lone visits. This should be established with a risk assessment.
However, with stretched budgets and cutbacks in the public sector, lone working is an unavoidable part of the job for most employees. Hence the reason to take all available precautions to protect these vulnerable workers.
Lone worker solutions provider, First2helpYou have many years’ experience working with clients and lone workers in the social housing sector. If you are a manager or team leader who is concerned about lone working at your organisation, please contact us for advice and lone worker devices.