Monday, March 20, 2006

Killing Of Texas Social Service Worker Raises Workplace Safety Issues

The killing of Texas social worker Sally Blackwell, 53, is bringing attention to the hazards faced by social service workers. Blackwell, a program director with Texas Child Protective Services, was found dead in a field. The authorities have not said whether her death was related to her job, although she had received threats.

Threats and violence against social service workers is nothing new, but it rarely rises into the headlines until someone gets killed.
A study released last week by the National Association of Social Workers found that 55 percent of 5,000 licensed social workers surveyed said they faced safety issues on the job. Sixty-eight percent of them said their employers had not adequately addressed their concerns. A survey in 2002 of 800 workers found 19 percent had been victims of violence and 63 percent had been threatened.
In 1997, federal OSHA issued guidelines to assist health care and social service workers to prevent workplace violence, but Texas isn't exactly at the forefront of protecting public employees:
Currently, social workers in Texas receive a half day of safety training, and the issue frequently comes up in a 12-week course, said a spokesman, Chris Van Deusen.

The child services department has no way of tracking how many threats its roughly 3,000 caseworkers receive, said Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services. But even people who have spent their entire careers with the agency can remember only a few instances in which threats escalated to violence, Mr. Crimmins said.

Texas social worker Holly Jones stressed that "We don't have weapons, we don't have training in self-defense, we didn't go through a police academy and we're dealing with the same people they are."

After Marty Smith, a crisis responder for the Washington State mental-health system, was beaten to death last November while attempting to hospitalize a schizophrenic client who had not been taking his medication, Smith's union, SEIU 1199NW, began organizing to pass Marty's Law: Make Our Work Safer. (HB 2921). Marty's Law would provide funding so clinicians can work in pairs when they are sent to evaluate a client in a private residence. The bill also requires clinicians to be provided with cell phones, prompt access to patient records, and training on violence prevention.

In addition,
In 2001, Michigan lawmakers toughened the penalties for people who threaten or attack social workers after a child welfare caseworker was beaten, bound, gagged and suffocated while checking on a family. The law also required safety training for workers who make home visits.

The death of a Kansas mental health social worker prompted Representative Dennis Moore, Democrat of Kansas, to introduce a resolution last fall that would encourage state and local agencies to improve the safety of social workers. The resolution is pending.
Hey, I have another idea. Being as workplace violence is a serious workplace safety problem across the United States, and there are feasible ways to prevent attacks, maybe a federal government agency responsible for workplace safety should issue an enforceable standard.

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