Council staff hit and bitten as they do their jobs

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THE shocking range of physical attacks suffered by school staff, social workers and other council employees this year are revealed today in data released by local authorities.

Statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal incidences of staff being punched, bitten, head-butted, attacked with pool cues and even suffering sexual abuse while they tried to carry out their vital work in Yorkshire communities during 2011.

One local authority, Leeds City Council, has revealed its school staff are suffering physical assaults at a rate of more than six per day. There have been almost 3,000 separate incidents in the city’s educational establishments since April 2009.

But the scale of the problem extends far beyond inner-city schools, with hundreds of incidences of other local authority employees being attacked across the region this year.

In Kirklees, one council worker was smashed over the head with a pool cue by an unknown assailant who entered his workplace “intent on fighting” one of the authority’s trainees.

Another was “suddenly head-butted in the face” by a member of the public, while a female care worker suffered a full-scale sexual assault by a service user who “grabbed her neck area in a headlock-type position and then kissed her on the lips and stroked her bottom”.

In Doncaster, a roadworker was off work for days after being attacked by a group of men as he worked in the street.

In North Lincolnshire, one member of the council’s ‘neighbourhood’ team had a knife drawn on him, while another suffered a bloody nose after a drinks can was thrown in his face.

Public sector unions have said the data offers a stark reminder of the dangers faced by many council workers as they go about their work – often on relatively low levels of pay.

“We have consistently lobbied successive governments to afford greater protection both legally and practically for front-line workers in the public services,” said Unison’s regional secretary, John Cafferty.

He added: “These are problems which stretch right across the public sector. Our public servants should feel safe to carry out their important work without the threat of physical and verbal abuse.”

The extent of the attacks on staff working in city schools are particularly concerning.

Leeds City Council said there have been 2,999 physical attacks on its schools workers in the past two-and-a-half years – an average of more than six per school day across the city.

The authority stressed the figures are spread across 17,000 schools workers and that many of the incidents occur in special educational units where the most troubled young people attend.

Nigel Richardson, director of children’s services said: “We work closely with schools to make sure that staff receive the appropriate training to help them to de-escalate potentially hostile situations.

“The majority of the incidents reported occur either in our pupil referral units or the Specialist Inclusive Learning Centres that cater for young people with complex behavioural needs.”

Outside schools, it is social workers, youth workers and traffic wardens who most often find themselves facing violent situations.

Figures released by Hull City Council revealed hundreds of social workers are attacked each year in the city.

And records kept by Kirklees Council reveal how one female traffic warden faced a “very abusive” male motorist who “gave her a back-hand, catching her chin” after she wrote him out a ticket for being parked illegally.

A spokesman for Kirklees said: ““It’s important to stress that some reported incidents, especially those involving care staff, are related to the medical conditions of people receiving a service.”

But there are also incidences of staff being attacked across the region outside “care” situations.

In Scarborough, street cleaners were attacked and had items thrown at them and in Bradford, library and theatre staff have been attacked this year.

And even a lifeguard in the East Riding was subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse.