Cover stories

Growing trends in employer's liability claims

2014 saw a growing trend of claims stemming from assaults in the social care sector. Between September and December 2014 approximately 30% of employers liability notifications related not to slips and trips but to assaults by service users on employees or injuries sustained by employees. In fact, Markel saw a 15% month on month increase in claims during 2014 for injuries sustained by carers following assaults by service users; a frightening statistic that should sound a clear wake-up call to all those responsible for risk assessment and management in the social care arena.

The dangers of poor risk management

Even where risk assessments have been carried out, unpredictable incidents such as slips and trips, not to mention unexpected assaults, are always going to lead to injury claims in the social sector.

However, every employer in the social care sector has a responsibility to protect both staff and service users by using best practice at all times and have robust risk management procedures in place not only to manage and help prevent such incidents occurring but to enable insurers to defend them in the unfortunate event that an assault does take place. The better and more robust the documentation the better chance the insurer will have of being able to defend them.

For example, where a risk assessment with regard to a potentially violent or unpredictable service user has identified the need for two fully trained staff to manage them at all times, problems could arise for an employer if this staff ratio was not maintained and an assault occurred.

Naturally, any insurer would handle the injury claim but when the time came for the employers liability insurance to be renewed, they may well look to impose conditions, review the insurance premium or even refuse to offer cover if they believe that risk management is not being taken seriously.

The knock-on effects of poor risk management

While higher premiums and special conditions are two good reasons for employers in the social care sector to ensure they are meeting their duty of care with regard to risk management, the effects of failure to do so can be even more far-reaching.

It goes without saying that being the victim of an assault can be physically and emotionally devastating for any care worker, the psychological harm which can follow such incidents can lead to very real illness and mental distress for those unfortunate to experience them which any employer would wish to avoid for obvious reasons.

Beyond the personal impact on the employee, assaults can also affect the operational efficiency of an organisation. That's because not only will shifts still have to be covered while staff are injured, causing additional agency or training costs, but staff morale can also plummet especially if they feel they are being put at risk unnecessarily leading to valued staff leaving the organisation and sometimes even the profession.

The importance of risk management training

While most employers in the social welfare sector understand the importance of risk assessment and management, they don't always get it right. That's why, at Markel, we are always happy to work with social welfare clients to help them improve problem areas; even arranging for advice and assistance from care industry experts where necessary.

So whenever you are dealing with clients in the social welfare sector, it is worth speaking to them - and to our in-house experts - to discuss the risk of assaults caused by poor risk management, and the ways in which such incidents can be minimised.