Seven years ago, Psychology student Ashleigh Ewing was delivering a letter on behalf of a colleague to a client. Ashleigh was six months into her new job – a mental health support worker, after graduating from University.
Ashleigh visited the flat of Ronald Dixon, a client diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and a had a violent history. Ashleigh was stabbed thirty-nine times in a frenzied knife attack and died as a result of the brutal assault. She was twenty-two years old.
Dixon was detained indefinitely in 2007 after admitting manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
An inquest into her death was raised in 2011. It heavily criticised her employer for failing to conduct a risk assessment on Mr Dixon for over three years, and for sending Ashleigh alone to his home. The charity was fined £50,000 for these failures.
Ashleigh’s parents, Aileen and Jeff Ewing, demanded to know why she was asked to pay an unaccompanied visit to a client “who was known to have a violent past” and why Dixon’s care had not been monitored more closely.
Though murders are rare, Ashleigh’s tragic case illustrates the very worst possible outcome when the risks lone workers face proves unmanageable. However, there aren’t many weeks that pass without hearing of another care worker being assaulted whilst carrying out their professional duties.
In fact, a survey conducted by Inside Housing that reveals there were nearly 9,000 recorded attacks on housing staff between 2009 and 2012 – that equates to approximately six a day. Often, these attacks are life changing.
Take for instance, the case of Vijay Mehan – a care worker in her sixties who was punched in the chest by a resident. She was left in considerable pain and shock and believed her heart was about to stop. A scan showed that her breastbone was damaged and had to attend physiotherapy. After facing several months on sick leave, Mrs Mehan resigned from her job after deciding she was no longer willing to place herself at further risk of violence.
Vijay was awarded over £40,000 in compensation after settling out of court with her previous employers.
Cases like these highlight the severity of risks faced by social workers on a daily basis. It only takes a search on the internet or through the media to find regular examples of these attacks.
Just the other day, an unnamed children’s care worker received compensation from her employers after being viciously assaulted on FIVE separate occasions by a teenager. The victim approached her union, UNISON for advice. She said “”It was extremely frightening going into work not knowing what he would do next and wondering how far he would take things.”
The solicitors working on behalf of UNISON said of the case, “Too often those working in caring and health environments are put in situations which make them vulnerable to assault.”
“Employers have a duty of care to their staff and must take all reasonable steps to protect them from assaults at work.”
With over 120,000 Housing Officers and Social Workers in the UK, as well as nearly 60,000 Youth and Community workers employed, it’s not an insignificant number of people that are exposed to these potential risks.
Now that lone working has become more of a necessity in recent years, due to budget cuts, it’s even more imperative that employers introduce measures to help prevent such incidents occurring (such as risk assessments and conflict-resolution training), or if difficult situations develop, give their staff a fast and effective way to call for help (personal alarms or mobile phone applications).