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Home > Consultation and Training > Trieschman Center for Consultation & Training > Workforce Development Initiative


2001 Finding Better Ways Conference Presentation Recap

Developing Health and Safety Guidelines For Child Welfare

Fran Bernstein
Washington, DC

Lettie Oliver
AFSCME Council 62
Indianapolis, IN

Workplace violence has reached epidemic proportions. Homicide is now the third leading cause of workplace deaths, and throughout the 1990's approximately two million workers were victims of violence at work each year. While violence by co-workers often receives the most media attention, violence by strangers results in the most fatalities in the workplace, and violence by customers or clients accounts for the majority of nonfatal injuries. The effects of workplace violence range from physical injury and death to emotional problems and post traumatic stress disorder. Workplace violence is not random or unpredictable. It is possible to identify conditions that put workers at risk and to implement preventive measures.

In the mid-1990s, AFSCME Council 62 and the Indiana Division of Family and Child Services (DFC) began discussions about health and safety issues for employees in all areas within DFC, including child welfare. The union and management jointly circulated a workplace issues survey to DFC employees in 1997, and personal safety scored as the primary concern. This concern increased after a fatal shooting at a nonprofit social services agency adjacent to a DFC office. As a result of the survey data, union and management set the goal of protecting the 3,400 DFC employees from injury, illness and death due to workplace violence, ergonomics problems, and the spread of infectious diseases. Policies were adopted addressing all three areas, with workplace violence identified as the top priority. The following information provides a brief summary of the activities undertaken and the plans in place for all three initiatives.

Indiana Labor-Management Safety Initiative

Training Trainers and Staff: An equal number of union and management staff attended train-the-trainer sessions. The curriculum included the causes and prevention of workplace violence; a standardized presentation on the DFC violence prevention policy; and procedures for conducting security audits of DFC facilities. This cadre of trainers then spread out across the 150 DFC buildings to train all employees, managers and supervisors.

Work-site Inspections: Labor and management developed a detailed safety checklist for conducting walk-through safety evaluations in all DFC buildings. The checklist included both in-office and field security assessments. After the checklist was completed and analyzed, the labor-management team issued Findings and Recommendations.

Engineering Responses: Examples of concrete "engineering" changes made in one or more DFC offices based on the Findings and Recommendations include: installation of metal detectors and panic buttons; cell phones for staff; locked bathrooms; repairs of broken locks and windows; adequate lighting; improved vehicle maintenance; and improved comfort in office waiting rooms.

Work Practices Responses: Examples of work practice changes include: periodic security inspections; coordination with local law enforcement; staff ID badges with no last names; visitor sign-in and passes; decreased client waiting time; buddy system when needed out in the field; tracking system for staff in the field.

Health and Safety Committee: The new policies require that each DFC office establish a health and safety committee comprised of both union and management representatives. The committees' primary purpose is to ensure that safety measures are implemented. They are also charged with reviewing a variety of safety records including OSHA logs, incident reports, workers' compensation reports, and logs of violence threats and near misses.

Indiana Labor-Management Ergonomics Initiative

Goals: To obtain ergonomically correct equipment and to provide training on existing staff needs and future prevention efforts.

Ergonomics Program: This program is in its initial stages. While the policies have been written, implementation is just underway. As with safety issues, the union and management will be utilizing a train-the-trainer model for general awareness of the issue and to develop expertise. Information will be gathered from employees on injuries and/or discomfort they have experienced or are currently experiencing. Risk factors will then be identified and recommendations will be made to control ergonomic hazards. This will likely involve modifying office equipment and changing the organization of work where needed. The program will then be subject to evaluation.

Indiana Infectious Disease Control Initiative

Goals: To educate at-risk employees and to respond if employees are exposed to infectious diseases on the job.

Infectious Disease Control Program: This program is also in its initial stages. Trainers will be trained to educate employees about the risks of contracting infectious diseases, how these risks can be minimized, and what to do if they have been exposed. Initial actions include: offering immunizations to at-risk employees at no cost; continuing salary and benefits for employees who are absent due to a communicable disease; screening for employees who do not have proof of prior immunizations; and informing employees of exposure incidents.


Legitimate concern about health and safety is one reason why child welfare workers are dissatisfied with their jobs or even leave the field. The Indiana union-management health and safety initiative is a successful model for addressing these concerns and making tangible improvements in child welfare work.


AFSCME Research and Public Policy Departments. (2001). Developing health and safety guidelines for child welfare in the Indiana Division of Family and Children Services. (This guide includes the Indiana DFC survey; policies; checklist; findings and recommendations; and standardized presentation on the DFC violence prevention policy.) Washington, DC: Author.

AFSCME Public Policy Department. (1998). Double jeopardy: Caseworkers at risk helping at-risk kids. A report on the working conditions facing child welfare workers. Washington, DC: Author.

AFSCME Public Policy Department. (1998). AFSCME child welfare watch newsletter. Washington, DC: Author.

Contact Information

Fran Bernstein, J.D.
Public Policy Department
1625 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202.429.1164
Fax: 202.429.1084

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