“While it is clear that organisations must confront, understand and do all they can to prevent violence and its consequences, it is inevitable that community welfare professionals will often have to deal with situations where violence is a possibility or a fact. “
In the late ’80’s I was working for a women’s organization, providing therapeutic support to women who were looking to leave violent relationships. I was working with my last client of the day, the rest of the staff had left, and although the front door had been closed, it was not locked. When my client and I exited my office it was to find her ex-partner in the reception area. She and I were held in my office for a period of approximately 45 minutes while this man waved a knife at us, and threatened to cut me for encouraging his partner to leave their relationship. Fortunately, no one was physically hurt and I was able to talk him down, and out of my office. He was later picked up by police and charged but I will never forget that experience and it has forever coloured my perception of safety in my work.
“…. evidence from the United States suggests that more violence occurs in the health and social services fields than any other workplace (OSHA, 1998).”
In the child and family welfare sector, we do compassionate work, important, heartfelt, client centred, supportive work. We work in often confronting, challenging circumstances with clients who are managing incredibly difficult circumstances, and can become angry, hostile and dangerous. Yet, violence is not limited to client related attacks; it may come from members of the public, students, patients or clients, or from supervisors, managers or other workers. It can occur whether you work for a government or non-government agency, in an urban or remote setting, during the day, or at night. Work place violence may include physical assault, verbal abuse, threats and intimidation. Although we may take non-physical violence such as verbal abuse, intimidation and threatening behaviour less seriously perhaps because it is harder to quantify, it too may significantly effect employees’ psychological well-being. The fact is, workplace violence is costly; consider rates of absenteeism, lost productivity, higher insurance premiums and medical expenses, and also personal costs of emotional trauma suffered by victims and their families.
What I have learned after many years of working in the sector is that my story is not unique. Most of the people I have worked with will have their own stories to tell about work place violence. Being a victim of violence while on the job, is not unusual or rare and regardless of how it occurs, who perpetrates the violence or when or where it happens, the after effect is usually debilitating and far reaching. Yet despite the prevalence of violence in our work and work places, we often hear stories about how practitioners are encouraged to minimise risk, not focus on the possibility that it could happen to us, and if it does happen to us, we are often silenced, told to get over it, get on with it and get back to business as though nothing has happened, after all, its all in a days work, right?
It’s important that we bring work place violence out into the open and that we have strategies to reduce or eliminate risk where possible and that we provide our practitioners with quality supports and services in the event that they do experience violence in the course of their work. There are things we can do including:
* Ensuring there is a management plan which identifies types and areas of work where employees are likely to be exposed to violence
* Assessing the nature and extent of the identified risks of violence which applies to less threatening and intimidating forms of violence as well as the more sensationalized high-profile threats and risk of physical attack.
* Ensuring through training that :
- staff been trained to recognise and avoid potential violence, and diffuse violence and aggression
- staff have interpersonal skills training
- there are safe procedures for violent situations
- staff understand violence management procedures
- staff trained to report violent and other critical incidents
- The Queensland Government Occupational Violence page
- Violence in the workplace: awareness and prevention JAN HINSON AND MARGARET SHAPIRO
- In the Firing Line: Relationships, Power and Violence in Child Protection; Janet Stanley, Chris Goddard. This excellent book clearly discusses the relationship between the violence that is experienced by many child and family welfare practitioners in the course of their work and their ability to protect children. Well worth the read!
- And further good news, in May (10, 11) PeakCare is bringing Eddie Kardas to Brisbane to deliver his exceptional, 2 day conflict resolution training. If you think your organization and staff might benefit, you can find out further information here!