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Social Workers Attacked

April 26, 2006 permalink

The CBC publishes an article in the form of a plea by nurses and social workers for more protection. It seems social work is now a dangerous profession, but unlike forestry and coal mining, the danger comes not from accidents but from client attacks. Rather than making social work more responsive to client needs, the profession now seeks security. Carried to its conclusion, social workers will be carrying sidearms and riding in bullet-proof cars.



Health, social services workers top targets of violence

Health-care and social-assistance workers are much more likely to file compensation claims over violence in the workplace than employees in other Canadian sectors, a CBC News investigation suggests. In Manitoba, the rate of violence-related claims is 11 times higher than for all other industries, according to databases from the Worker's Compensation Board.

Nurses, nursing assistants, social and mental-health workers in Manitoba reported 1.95 violent incidents per 1000 workers in 2004, compared with 0.16 incidents per 1000 workers in other industries.

Glenn Stobbe, president of the Manitoba Nurses' Union local at Seven Oaks Hospital, says the CBC investigation revealed what many nurses already know: that the level of abuse in hospitals is on the rise.

MNU officials say three-quarters of nurses fear violent situations on the job. It's a fear Stobbe identifies with; he was assaulted a few years ago by someone visiting a patient.

"The fellow came at me from out of nowhere, and he jumped me … banged my head on a wall a few times and sent me home for a few weeks." he said.

"Visitors come into the hospital — you may know the patient, but you don't know the visitor. You don't know the family."

MNU president Maureen Hancharyk blames a number of factors for the higher rate of violent incidents among nurses.

"We are seeing in hospitals and personal care homes more people who are substance abusers. We have staff shortages and certainly that increases the violence because people are just not happy when they are having to wait," she said.

"I think society is just increasingly violent and we're seeing it in our patients."

Hancharyk says the union has been calling for increased security in medical facilities to protect nurses, suggesting the provincial government should hire security staff for emergency rooms and provide personal alarms to medical staff.

Training not mandatory

Some workers say they get almost no recognition for the dangers they face on a daily basis.

Lee McLeod, who works with Child and Family Services of Central Manitoba, says several of his co-workers have been assaulted on the job, and he himself has been threatened.

"You're dealing with extremely violent situations. It's amazing to me that more workers don't get assaulted," said McLeod, who also heads his Canadian Union of Public Employees local.

McLeod says CFS workers who apprehend children and deal with distraught family members do dangerous work, but they don't receive specific training on ways to deal with volatile or violent situations, nor do they have any special equipment — not even cell phones.

"I've got friends who work for customs, and they just can't believe that we have to fight for basic things like cell phones," he said.

A spokesman for the province's child protection branch said training is available to employees, but it is not mandatory for frontline CFS workers, something he admitted may have to change.

"I think we need to look at that," said Jay Rodgers.

Tougher rules could help: researcher

Anthony Pizzano researches health and safety for the Canadian Union of Public Employees. He says without tougher regulations, even more of his members will get injured.

"What will happen is that we will have a reactive situation, whereas health and safety legislation in general is supposed to be preventive," he said.

Provincial officials are working on new regulations to protect workers in situations that could be violent or dangerous.

"What we want is employers to provide safe workplaces for our employees," said Labour Minister Nancy Allan. "The employer will be required to have a look at what kind of risks are in the workplace and have a plan to deal with those risks."

Allan says the new regulations will be out soon.

Source: CBC