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Workplace violence injuries, claims reveal painful truths about state service

By SHERRY HALBROOK

New York state knows that a large share of its employees face potential danger of injury on the job every day. And PEF knows that thousands of those state employees are its members. But complete and reliable data on who is being hurt, where, when, how, how seriously and how much it costs the state and affects state services is difficult to get.

The union is not automatically notified when one or more of its members are hurt on the job.

“We know that it is happening, and in many cases the injuries result from deliberate, violent assaults, rather than by accident,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “The state has a duty to keep its employees safe on the job, and we believe it must do a much better job of that, because our members are being beaten and suffering damaging mental and emotional stress day-after-day, year-after-year working in dangerous environments and conditions.”

How does PEF know that so many of its members are being injured? One way, is a unique kind of insurance that the union’s Membership Benefits Program instituted in PEF’s earliest years to help members who have experienced workplace violence.

“We only look at statistical data from these claims,” Spence said. “Our members’ privacy is always respected and their personal information is always confidential.”

Every member is covered and they can file a claim if they are kidnaped, held hostage, or suffer serious injury on the job. However, they must file criminal charges against their assailant in order to qualify, which means that a member who can’t identify their assailant can’t file charges or an insurance claim.

“Even without those members who can’t ID their assailants, our MBP received 70 claims from January 2018 through November 2019,” Spence said, “and 50 of those claims were paid in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. The members’ personal information is confidential, but the stats tell a very stark story.

Of the 50 claims that were paid, 28 of those members work at the state Office of Mental Health, and more than a dozen work for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“You might think it is more dangerous to work in a state prison than it is to supervise inmates after they have been released under parole supervision,” Spence said. “But this insurance claim data refutes that assumption. Twelve out of the 13 injured members at DOCCS whose claims were paid, are parole officers, and the remaining one is an offender rehabilitation coordinator. That says a lot about who is in harm’s way.”

By far and away, nurses are the ones getting hurt most often. Twenty-seven nurses filed claims that were paid. Several psychiatrists and psychologists were also among those whose claims were paid, as well as social workers and an education program assistant whose injuries were deemed so severe and totally disabling that the member received $9,000.

“These numbers tell us a lot about who is getting injured and where it is happening,” Spence said, “but you must look a little closer to recognize the pain and misery these members are enduring. For instance, probably the most frequent assault they reflect involves being punched. Fractures, cervical spine injuries, sprains and contusions are among other injuries. And quite a few of the assaults also involved kicking, biting and spitting, with some of those victims developing eye infections. A few members had bodily fluids thrown on them. One member’s face was slashed repeatedly.”

No state employee should have to risk experiencing such attacks, Spence declared.

“This absolutely must stop!” the union leader stated. “We are ready to work with the state to stop this, but it is ultimately the employer’s responsibility to make it happen and blaming the victims only makes it worse. What we need is a sincere, all-out commitment to safety and an end to workplace violence.”

 


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