Dec 19, 2023

Workplace Violence in Social Services Settings

Category: Social Services

The social services sector provides critical services to some of the most vulnerable members of society. In the course of this important work, employees may find themselves in dangerous situations. Workplace violence in social services settings is an ongoing problem, but, by implementing best practices, you can mitigate the risk.

A Higher Risk for Workplace Violence

The nature of the social services sector – which often involves working closely with people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness – has a high risk of unpredictable situations and violence.

According to the CDC, 10.3 healthcare and social assistance workers were injured for every 10,000 full-time workers as a result of workplace violence in 2020. Between 2016 and 2020, 207 workers in the private-sector healthcare and social assistance industry died due to workplace violence.

Is Your Organization at Risk?

Workplace violence can occur anywhere. However, some worksites have a higher-than-average risk. OSHA says your organization may be exposed to violence if your employees:

  • Work with the public.
  • Exchange money with the public.
  • Work alone.
  • Work late at night or during the early morning.
  • Are part of an understaffed workplace.
  • Work in an area with a high crime rate.
  • Have a mobile workplace.
  • Deliver passengers or goods.
  • Perform jobs that might put them in conflict with others.
  • Perform duties that could upset other people (for example, confiscating property or terminating child custody).
  • Deal with people known or suspected of having a history of violence.
  • Work with people who have a history of assault, verbal abuse, harassment, or other threatening behavior.

Consider the tips below to keep your team safe.

  1. Build Safety into the Physical Location

Physical features can make a location safer for the individuals who work there. Changes that improve safety by removing hazards or by putting a barrier between workers and hazards are called engineering controls. OSHA provides several examples of engineering controls that may be appropriate in certain settings, including:

  • Security systems, such as alarms, panic buttons, GPS tracking, paging systems, and cell phones.
  • Exit routes, including having rooms with two exits (when possible), safe rooms, and exit routes that are clear of furniture.
  • Metal detectors, either handheld or installed.
  • Monitoring systems, such as curved mirrors, closed-circuit video, and glass panels in doors.
  • Barriers, such as deep counters, bulletproof glass, and lockable bathrooms.
  • Removal of hazards – for example, by securing furniture that someone could use as a weapon, putting locks on cabinets and syringe drawers, and padding or replacing objects with sharp edges.
  • Improved lighting, including indoors and in outdoor parking areas and walkways.
  • Vehicle safety, including maintaining vehicles and adding barriers between the driver and patients, when appropriate.
  1. Establish Safe Work Practices

Work practices also play a critical role in safety. Changes in work practices that improve safety are called administrative controls. According to OSHA, possible administrative controls include:

  • A workplace violence response policy that informs patients, clients, and visitors that violence is not permitted or tolerated.
  • Worker tracking, including detailed log-in and log-out procedures.
  • Client tracking for those with a history of violence.
  • Policies about working alone and the use of a buddy system.
  • Staff escorts in parking areas in the evening or night.
  • Reporting policies for assaults and threats.
  • Entry procedures with sign-in requirements for visitors.
  • Incident response procedures that ensure employees follow protocols and that adequately-trained security officers and counselors are available to respond.
  • Employee uniforms and identification badges as well as policies that discourage expensive jewelry or items that someone could use as a weapon against workers.
  • Facility checks to identify and remove potential hazards and ensure doors that are supposed to be locked are secured.

See OSHA’s Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Services Workers for additional tips and more details on possible controls.

  1. Train Your Staff

Safety policies don’t help if staff members do not adhere to the policies on a daily basis. Therefore, ongoing training is essential to worker safety.

  • Train new staff and volunteers on safety procedures, including policies designed to prevent incidents and how to respond to dangerous situations and threats.
  • Provide training when you implement new safety procedures.
  • Provide additional training after incidents or near-misses to correct any safety issues.
  • Monitor activities to ensure employees are following safety procedures and provide follow-up training as needed. For example, check logs to ensure employees are completing them correctly.
  • Conduct safety drills to ensure your team knows what to do in emergency situations.
  1. Enlist the Support of a Risk Management Partner

Tangram’s social services program provides workers’ compensation insurance and other risk solutions designed for the social services sector. We offer employee training and risk management resources as well as nurse triage services to help you keep your workers safe and your risks under control. Learn more.