Social Work: Where Workplace Violence is the Norm, Not the Exception

In Major League Baseball, fights such as last night's bench clearing brawl between the Giants and the Phillies are not the norm. Contrarily, workplace violence is a risk faced by social workers on a daily basis.

Since entering the work force a little over a year ago, I've been bitten/chased by dogs, exposed to a multitude of diseases, threatened with physical harm, assigned to unsafe neighborhoods, and called to deal with aggressive individuals. I know that as I continue my career as a medical and home health social worker, I'll inevitably encounter many more risky situations. While I try to be aware of my surroundings and take precautionary measures (such as keeping pepper spray in my purse during home health visits), there are those scary moments when I find myself thinking, "Please don't hurt me!"

Here are a few things I've done in an attempt to minimize my risk at work:
-Carry pepper spray with me during home visits
-Inform friends and family when I'm going to be doing a home visit, and asking them to call me after a set amount of time
-If possible, position myself in an area near a door so I can escape if necessary
-Ensure that Cody Gray situations are stabilized before attempting to see the patient

Another thing I might do that someone recommended is purchase a white lab coat with "Social Worker" embroidered on it to use for my home health job. Since individuals associate white lab coats with the medical profession, outsiders will likely be less suspicious when I pull up for a visit. In fact, I've heard stories of social workers in white lab coats that have had gang members protect their cars during house appointments with family members.

How do other social workers out there minimize risk during home visits? What tips/recommendations do you follow when it comes to keeping safe on the job? I'd certainly like to hear your input!


  1. I've actually been told it's bad to identify yourself as a social worker. It has been suggested to call yourself a nurse instead.

    Some people may identify a social worker as the person who takes kids away and want retaliation for that.

    Maybe just get yourself a plain white labcoat and leave it at that.

  2. @Btrflygl: You make a very good point there. While my patients and family members might associate me with a helping profession, outsiders who don't know that I work with older adults might see my lab coat and think of me as someone who steals kids.

    I was considering a white lab coat with my name and "MSW" after it, but that might produce the same reaction. Perhaps a plain white labcoat is the best way. Thanks for your input!


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