As most healthcare professionals will be only too aware, workplace violence disproportionately affects those working in the industry. In the US, 70-74% of workplace assaults occur in healthcare settings. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of professionals reporting assaults went up even further, with violent incidents in some areas increasing by 300%.
Substance abuse and addiction are known risk factors when it comes to violence in the workplace. As a result, addiction counselors and those supporting people with substance abuse issues are even more likely to experience violent behavior. According to a 2015 study, more than half (53%) of counselors working in substance use disorder treatment programs personally experienced violence, while 44% witnessed violence and 61% had knowledge of a colleague experiencing violence.
Safety is, therefore, an incredibly important consideration for those working in the areas of addiction and substance abuse. Here then, we look at 5 steps addiction counselors can take to keep themselves, and their colleagues, safe when they’re on the job.
What is the Importance of Addiction Counselors?
Addiction counselors do hugely important work by providing essential support for those dealing with and recovering from, a range of addictions and substance abuse issues. An addiction counselor will often work with their patients to create treatment plans and coping strategies as well as address their dependency issues.
By building trusting relationships with their patients, and providing judgment-free guidance, addiction counselors can support both those undergoing addiction treatment and, in many cases, their family members as well. Support can include everything from offering advice and facilitating access to support groups to family therapy and referrals to other associated health services. Having this consistent help on hand can boost a patient’s chances of recovery and of beating their substance abuse issues for good.
What are the Disadvantages of Being an Addiction Counselor?
Though addiction counseling is often very rewarding, there are of course downsides to the job. One of the main challenges addiction counselors face is violence in the workplace. Working with people experiencing drug abuse, alcohol addiction, and mental health issues can significantly increase the risk of violence. Therefore, professionals who work in addiction counseling are more likely to experience assaults and threatening behavior.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has released guidelines for preventing workplace violence for healthcare and social services workers. These guidelines look at common risk factors associated with violence in the workplace as well as violence prevention programs and strategies that can be used to help keep professionals safe. This includes introducing panic buttons, clearly marking exit routes, improving lighting, and installing metal detectors, barriers, and monitoring equipment. The main areas identified in the guidelines are below.
5 Safety Tips for Addiction Counselors
1. Management Communication
One of the best ways of improving workplace safety for substance use disorder counselors is boosting management communication. Counselors need to be able to talk to their managers and have their concerns understood and addressed. Regular meetings and clear communication procedures should help to create a supportive and safe environment for addiction counselors to work in.
2. Regular Health and Safety Training
Regular health and safety training for those working in addiction treatment services should help to ensure addiction counselors stay up to date with the latest guidelines and regulations relating to their profession.
Regular, targeted health and safety training can also be used to provide addiction counselors with advice on coping with violent patients and guidance on spotting problematic behavioral issues. Identifying behavioral health problems early can help to prevent assaults and give addiction counselors the information they need to protect themselves and their patients.
3. Keep a Record of Threatening Behavior
Keeping a record of any threatening words or actions displayed by patients can help addiction counselors to recognize dangerous patterns of behavior. This can make it easier to identify individuals who might become violent in the future. Where possible, these records should be available to all professionals working from the same recovery center.
4. Worksite Analysis and Hazard Identification
There are several environmental factors that can increase the likelihood of patients becoming violent. Small, cramped waiting rooms, long waiting times, poorly lit circulation areas and badly designed inpatient and outpatient centers have all been shown to contribute to an increased level of assaults in the workplace. Addiction counselors are also at increased risk when working alone and when working in areas with high crime rates.
While substance abuse treatment centers may not be able to address all of these factors, some are very easy to fix. Analyzing the usability and safety of a space, identifying hazards, and working to remedy these issues can help to significantly improve the safety of professionals when they’re treating patients.
5. Wear a Panic Button
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, a lack of access to emergency communication equipment is one of the main risk factors when it comes to assaults in the workplace. Introducing a comprehensive and reliable panic button system is therefore one of the best ways of improving addiction counselor safety on your premises.
Wearable panic buttons allow professionals to quickly and discreetly call for help whenever they feel threatened. Security services will be provided with the exact location of the person that requires assistance, allowing them to get there as quickly as possible.
Whether you’re an addiction counselor, social worker, or a member of support staff, having a safe and secure environment will help you to perform your role to the best of your abilities. To find out more about the benefits of panic buttons for behavioral health centers, and learn how ROAR’s technology is already improving workplace safety, get in touch with a member of our team.