The UK's frontline workers play a vital role in our everyday lives be it keeping our streets safe, helping us in a medical emergency or getting us to work. They are society's heroes, yet shockingly I have uncovered figures which show that violence against people like nurses, cabbies, and receptionists is rife. Through collating data from London's hospital trusts, emergency services, Transport for London and Government departments, I have uncovered 65,970 attacks on essential workers in just the last three years, working out to over 400 violent incidents a week. My latest report on the subject, Risky Business, shows train and tube workers having to deal with drunken and racially aggravated violence, doctors and nurses in our A&Es and maternity wards being punched, kicked and spat at, while cabbies face guns, knives and even being run over by their own cars. Nobody is exempt from this disgraceful behaviour - police officers, hospital receptionists and ambulance paramedics are all victims of violence.
I would like the transport sector and emergency services to embrace affordable wearable technology to help protect frontline workers, especially if they are mobile or work alone. The GLA Conservatives have long been advocating body-worn cameras for London's emergency services, and earlier this year the Met announced a trial of 500 devices distributed to officers across 10 boroughs. The kit has also been successfully trialled in Newcastle under Lyme and recently rolled out to every officer, special and PCSO on patrol across Staffordshire police.
I would like to see the London Ambulance Service trial 100 body-worn cameras for frontline crews. With one or more cameras available in each of the LAS's 70 ambulance stations, many of the dangerous call-outs would have surveillance available. Other distributions of the camera technology should also be trialled to fully test the viability of the technology in myriad circumstances, such as crews stationed at busy times on high streets, or during large public events in London. If the pilot were to prove successful, a further 100 on-vehicle CCTV systems should be tested on ambulances.
While body cameras would act as visible deterrents for criminals, make it easier to report crimes, avoid disputes and shorten trials, they are not the answer for every type of frontline worker. For people that are mobile or work alone, such as those who drive buses and taxis, and work in train stations, there are easy-to-use technologies on the market which can effectively monitor their safety and raise the alarm in the event of an emergency. Wearable 'panic buttons' can be clipped on to a belt, communicate over 2G or 3G, and track location in real time via GPS. If an employee falls down or becomes unconscious, the device senses it automatically and can call for help by texting or emailing an alert back to the control room. Alternatively, the wearer can pull a latch or push a silent button to call for help, upon which details, including the location of the person, is emailed or texted to the alarm centre, who can then escalate it to the emergency services. Similar 'panic button' technology is already being used in hotels in New York City to protect housekeepers from abuse, as well as by overnight bus drivers in Buenos Aires. Before any significant investment is made, the workability of this technology should be trialled, and London should lead the way with a pilot of 100 devices, equally distributed between appropriate mobile staff.
I believe the kit will eventually pay for itself. A one-year pilot of 100 wearable GPS panic button devices for mobile staff would cost £33k in total including all hardware and service plans. A pilot of 100 body cameras, if similar technology to the Staffordshire police scheme is used, would cost £66,000. A further trial of 100 on-vehicle CCTV systems would cost approximately £40,000 including inside and outside cameras and video storage systems. Compare these prices to the huge financial burden of violence in the workplace - it costs TfL £2.2m and the London Ambulance £125k - just for one year. Physical violence alone costs the NHS an estimated £60.5m a year.
It's good news that crime is falling and our cities, towns and neighbourhoods are becoming safer. But there is much more to be done. It is alarming to see that the very people we depend on are being beaten up just for doing their job. They need to be treated with respect.
"Risky Business" is the latest report in Roger Evan's campaign to protect frontline workers from attack and injury while on duty. It can be accessed at: www.glaconservatives.co.uk/rb