Safety for Social Workers Signed into Law

On February 15, 2013, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation that creates social work safety in the workplace. Filed by State Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Sean Garballey, this legislation was in response to recommendations of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Safety Task Force which convened after the 2008 death of a social worker on a home visit.

“This law requires all programs providing direct services to clients who are operated by, licensed, certified, or funded by a department or division of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services have a workplace violence prevention and crisis response plan, which is key to keeping social workers and other workers safe in direct care settings,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, Director of Government Relations and Political Action at the National Association of Social Workers, MA Chapter.

Plans must be updated at least annually for social workers, human services workers, volunteers, and all other employees. In addition, programs that do not have safety training in place shall require their employees to enroll in safety training which will be developed and offered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

“Many industries invest tremendous resources into workplace and worker safety. This legislation offers safety protections to employees who are on the front lines of public health, caring for and working with individuals and families who are struggling through troubling and often precarious circumstances. Social workers, human service workers and others who are dedicated to helping those in need should be afforded the same expectations of a safe and secure work environment,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett).

“I am proud to have been able to partner with the National Association of Social Workers on passing legislation that aims to protect our social workers so that they can continue to provide essential services to so many throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington).

“Social worker safety has been a priority for Massachusetts and this law will further enhance our efforts to protect those who are caring for our most vulnerable populations,” said Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz. “I thank the legislators and advocates who advanced this legislation to ensure that providers contracting with state agencies have strong workplace safety plans in place.”

In 2008, Diruhi Mattian, a 53-year-old social worker was performing a home visit and was stabbed to death by her client. As a result of this tragedy, NASW MA Chapter convened the Safety Task Force to determine the best strategies for making the social work profession as safe as possible. Stakeholders in the task force included NASW MA, schools of social work, employers across the Commonwealth, union representatives and state departments. Over the course of two years the group met and ultimately determined it was necessary to file this legislation. Especially since:

– More than ONE HALF of social workers in Massachusetts have been physically assaulted in a work related incident (assaults range from pushing, hitting, and choking to life-threatening attacks)

– 85% of social workers nationwide report that they have been subject to psychological aggression at some point in their careers

– 30% have experienced physical assault perpetrated by clients at some point in their careers

– Submitted by State Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington, Medford)

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