Avoiding Malpractice Tips

Are You Part of the 99.3% of the Social Workers Who Will Experience Violence on the Job?

Mar 4, 2022 | Avoiding Malpractice Tips

Are You Part of the 99.3% of the Social Workers Who Will Experience Violence on the Job?

The social work profession is a noble one founded on service, integrity, and clinical expertise. At times, it can be a stressful and hazardous occupation. The nation is grateful for what you do, AND SO ARE WE! Thank you!

Today we will examine the risks of violence facing you and some tactics that you can use to mitigate the damages.

It is a recognized fact that you will experience violence while on the job during your career. A qualitative study published in the Journal for the Society of Social Work and Research interviewed a random sample of 1,500 social workers. Over 1,490 of the respondents, 99.3% (virtually everybody), said they experienced violence during the past two years. (FSU News.com, “FSU Social Work Researchers Study Effects of Violence on Clients and Workers,” Caroline Lewis, March 31, 2021). You can expect that 20 social workers will die by homicide from a patient each year. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fact Sheet, Workplace Violence In Healthcare, 2018, April 2020).

This number is understated because it excludes homicides while in the venue occupied by a non-client and the social worker. For example, just a few years ago, the social worker victim in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area was entering the prison for an appointment. She was suddenly murdered by a convict (non-client) returning from the court. At the same time, they randomly passed each other in the prison entrance area. The convict impulsively jumped over the counter, snapped the social worker’s neck, and she died instantly.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that nearly 1,100 social workers, including private and governmental, were injured due to violence. About 32% worked with children and families. In 2019, Lloyds London reported 690 claims per 100,000 social workers assaulted each year while providing professional services. Once attacked, they suffer 19 days out of work for injury recovery. If drug or alcohol issues are involved, the assault incidents triple to over 2,000 per 100,000 social workers annually.

The Federal government recognizes the risk, and in April 2021, Congress, with a bipartisan majority, passed The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health and Social Services Workers Act. This bill responded to rising violence to health and social services workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, this employment segment accounted for 69% of all workplace violence injuries. The report noted that this workplace segment is five times more likely to experience violence than the average U.S. worker on the job. (Press Release, April 16, 2021, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03).

While an excellent start, this Act is short (31% of non-workplace violence injuries) in terms of actual prevention within the entire environmental sphere of behavioral therapy because it focuses on the workplace. The Act does the following:

  1. Compels OSHA to issue a standard within one year and a final standard within 42 months that requires health care and social services, employers to develop and implement a workplace violence protection plan;
  2. Identify risks, solutions, training requirements, incident investigations, and retaliation protection from reporting violent incidents; and 3) in the 24 states not covered by OSHA protections to protect the aforementioned occupational workers. (Ibid)
Best Practices:

Literature searches indicate a few standard best practices to improve your safety:

    1. Never work alone in your office building.
    2. Keep the venue, building, and grounds well lit.
    3. Train to recognize when someone becomes agitated and have an action plan ready when you sense increased anger and a bodily threat.
    4. Ensure that you are aware of the client’s history of violence, and continually assess the level of danger while informing your staff and co-workers.
    5. Train in non-violent self-defense tactics to defuse an escalating situation and calm down the client.
    6. Train in physical escape tactics, including exit routes to create distance from the threat from any person in the area and the client.
    7. Leave an itinerary with office staff; phone or text in regularly and frequently when in the field and have an established set of options for staff and police in the event of an incident.

In the event of an incident impacting you, there are a series of remedies for you that cushion the impact.

Examine Insurance Coverages
      • What are your employer’s health plan, hospital, and medical benefits? You are probably not covered for personal property losses.
      • What does your professional liability policy cover? Pay particular attention to the felonious assault coverage, bodily injury to you, your first aid, medical expenses, and property damage or loss.
      • Is there a felonious assault death benefit to cover your practice’s final expenses after you are gone?

IN COVERAGE PART C, the  Preferra Insurance Company RRG professional liability policy covers “First Party Assault” (an assault on you) for bodily injury and property damage while providing professional services, including traveling in connection with the therapy session. You are covered at the workplace, including office, on the street, at your client’s home, or any other venue. The limits and sub-limits are high, and the benefits include first aid, medical expenses, and coverage for damaged or stolen personal property that you own.

Unlike any other insurance carrier, Preferra Insurance Company awards a free Felonious Assault insurance policy with a $25,000 death benefit.

There is no doubt that your profession is a noble profession with implicit values of service, integrity, and clinical competence.

Avoiding Malpractice Tips

Monthly advice and information to help you manage risk. See list of past articles.

Resources and References

  • Are You Considering Teletherapy? Check out what you need to know BEFORE You start.
  • Have a question about your policy or need specific information, you can speak with a knowledgeable, licensed insurance representative by calling 888-278-0038.

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