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Social Services Workers At Risk: Will a Recent Ruling Help?

By Gerald Connor
Social Services Workers At Risk: Will a Recent Ruling Help?

A recent ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission may help push employers and the government to do more to protect social services workers from workplace violence.

The Danger of Workplace Violence for Social Services Workers

Incidents of workplace violence pose a significant risk of occupational injuries or death for social workers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers in the social services and health care industries suffered from 70 to 74% of the occupational injuries resulting from workplace assaults that occurred between 2011 and 2013. Much of the danger for assaults at the hands of clients and patients that social workers face is due to the nature of their jobs. In providing the services their clients need, social services employees often see people and families in their most frightened, stressed, and vulnerable states; and they are frequently called upon to aid people with psychiatric, drug, or alcohol issues.

Holding Employers Accountable for Worker Safety

A recent OSHRC decision and steps to introduce legislation aimed at protecting workers may aid in ensuring employers take the necessary precautions to protect their workers from workplace violence. The OSHRC affirmed a citation by the U.S. Secretary of Labor against a social services employer for violations stemming from a fatal assault against one of the health management group’s employees. The worker was attacked with a knife by a client while conducting a home visit to complete a required assessment for the health management group. Prior to the fatal occupational assault, the worker expressed concerns about the client’s behavior in her reports. The OSHRC found that the social worker’s employer failed to appropriately address a potential workplace violence hazard.

The proposed Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act requires the U.S. Department of Labor to create a standard for employers in the health care and social services fields to protect staff from workplace violence. If passed, the act would necessitate employers in the health care and social work industries to establish and implement plans to protect their employees from occupational assaults, to educate staff on managing the risks, and to investigate violent incidents.