SENIOR councillors have raised fears over 'vitriolic' posts on social media as attentions turn to 'defending' frontline staff following an increase in the number of verbal and physical incidents reported.

At Monday's executive board meeting, members noted the authority's annual health and safety report, which covered the period from April 2016 to March this year.

Overall, there has been an increase in the number of verbal and physical incidents reported by staff.

The figure increased from 89 incidents during 2015-16 to 148 during 2016-17.

In his report to members, Cllr Hitesh Patel, executive board member for personnel and communications, said: "The team continue to raise awareness and provide information regarding the importance of reporting these incidents at directorate health and safety committees.

"The fact that the number of reported incidents has increased can be viewed as a positive measure in the sense that the campaigns to raise awareness of reporting requirements through each directorate have been successful.

"Further intervention techniques continue to be developed including reviewing and publicising the guidance note for personal safety and lone working and health and safety executive awareness campaigns.

"As the council continues its transformation journey, resources and competing demands will inevitably be stretched.

"However, it is important the organisation does not lose sight of its statutory responsibilities and the associated penalties for non-compliance with health and safety law and ensures that directorates continue to consider support compliance to provide a safe environment for all staff, visitors and users of our services."

However, concerns were raised over social media during the meeting at the Town Hall.

Cllr Patel (LAB – Great Sankey South), who highlighted the importance of 'defending' staff, said: "The council has dealt with quite a few contentious issues in the last 12 months.

"When I reflect on conversations with the public about the Western Link, for example, I have seen, in some respects, some real vitriol directed to our officers.

"They are trying to do a difficult job.

"Verbal and physical abuse was never accepted but we also have social media now.

"There is an increased scrutiny in a way where they can't defend themselves."

Council leader Cllr Terry O'Neill added: "Can I echo your words on social media – it seems to be getting more vitriolic.

"People think if they put things on Facebook then that is it, they don't realise it goes viral.

"Unfortunately, more people are doing that.

"They appear to be using social media to get to the subject and it is getting worse I think."