Just two weeks ago, Illinois Department of Family and Child Services social worker Deirdre Silas was brutally stabbed to death while conducting a welfare check on children living in a private home. The threats, the injuries and sometimes the fatalities that health care and social service workers face on the job are the every-day rule, not the exception. And the politics and stress around COVID-19 have increased the number of threats they face.
According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled Workplace Safety and Health: Additional Efforts Needed to Help Protect Health Care Workers from Workplace Violence, workplace violence is a serious concern for 15 million health care workers in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, hospital workers were nearly six times as likely to suffer a serious workplace violence injury than all other workers, while workers in psychiatric hospitals are at 41 times greater risk of workplace violence injuries compared with all other workers. Individual and family social service workers are 3 times as likely to suffer as serious workplace injury than all other workers. BLS reports that over 15,000 health and social service workers had injuries so severe they lost workdays from injuries due to workplace violence in 2020, amounting to 76 percent of all workplace violence injuries across all industries.
OSHA is currently working on a workplace violence standard, but it will be many years before it is issued. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has twice passed a bill directing OSHA to issue as standard within 42 months. The Senate has not yet considered the bill.
What is to be done?
Why are health care and social service workers plagued with workplace violence? What can be done to prevent the injuries — both physical and mental — that often force health care and social service workers to leave their profession permanently?
These are the questions that health and safety advocates Margaret M. Keith and James T. Brophy tackle in their excellent new book, Code White: Sounding the Alarm on Violence Against Healthcare Workers. But this isn’t just a book about horror stories. Keith and Brophy dig deep into the root causes of violence against healthcare workers and then make recommendations about what can be done to protect healthcare workers.
I have reviewed Code White in New Solutions. The review is available free on line for the next couple of weeks. So read it. And then purchase a copy.
Although the authors of Code White are Canadian and focus mainly on working conditions in Canada, this short book provides essential reading for US labor advocates who are interested in understanding and addressing the root causes of assaults as well as the immediate and systemic changes that must occur to ensure safe workplaces for the employees and a decent therapeutic environment for patients and residents. In the review I compare the conditions in this country with Canada. Ultimately, although we have very different health systems, the threats workers face — and the solutions that will make their work environment safer — are the same.
New Solutions Book Review: Workplace Violence: The Hidden Epidemic Plaguing Health Care Workers
Purchase: Code White: Sounding the Alarm on Violence Against Healthcare Workers