237129 Part of the Job? Workplace Violence in Massachusetts Social Service Agencies

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: 10:45 AM

Jennifer Zelnick, ScD, MSW , Graduate School of Social Work, Touro College, New York, NY
Elspeth M. Slayter, PhD, MSW , School of Social Work, Salem State University, Salem, MA
Background and Objective: While under-studied, workplace violence is a significant issue for social/human service workers. The Massachusetts Task Force to Maximize Social Worker Safety sought to assess and characterize risk of workplace violence in Massachusetts social service agencies.

Methods: An anonymous, internet based survey was distributed to 200 public, private and non-profit agencies in Massachusetts.

Results: Forty agencies serving from 120-89,000 clients (Median 4,407) and employing 10-3,500 staff (Median 117) reported on 1,049 incidents of physical assault and threat among 9,022 staff in fiscal year 2009. Direct care staff were twice as likely to suffer a restraint-related injury during a violent episode with a client than clinical staff (O.R. 2.02; 95% CI 1.34-3.06); nearly 3 times more likely to experience a non-restraint related incident of assault or threat (O.R. 2.75; 95% CI 2.23-3.39), and almost 5 times as likely to experience a physical assault (O.R. 4.91; 95% CI (3.15-7.73). However, the only death reported for FY 2009 was a clinician. Most incidents occurred in an inpatient or office setting, but home of client/community were perceived as more dangerous. Agencies used incident reports and workers compensation claims to document incidents, safety committees with staff representation were rare. Participants expressed concern that incidents were under-reported and that staff saw workplace violence as “part of the job”.

Conclusion: Workplace violence is a significant issue at Massachusetts social service agencies that demands further research, agency-based prevention, and public policy response. Risk disparities between clinicians and direct care staff should be better understood.

Learning Areas:
Occupational health and safety
Other professions or practice related to public health

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the risk of assault and threat among staff at 40 social service agencies in Massachusetts in FY 2009. 2. Evaluate incidence of workplace violence in terms of agency characteristics including use of restraints and population served. 3. Compare the odds of incidence of workplace violence among direct care and clinical staff. 4. List 5 ideas about how to increase reporting of workplace violence in social services and promote a "culture of Care"

Keywords: Occupational Safety, Social Work

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I hold degrees, teach, conduct research, and publish in the social work and occupational health fields.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.