Workplace stress, violence rampant in Ontario's mentally-disabled sector

Front-line staff overworked, face an average of two violent incidents at work each year

A new study out of McMaster University concludes that government underfunding is to blame for stress, illness and injury among workers who look after the developmentally disabled in Ontario.

The study, led by McMaster professor Donna Baines, looked at three non-profit agencies that provide service to the mentally challenged. Cuts to funding have led to cuts in management, leaving front-line staff to do even more than before, the report said.

“This produces a management team who are stretched thinly across numerous sites and programs. It also means that (management) are not available to provide support to their employees and have less time for planning, furthering their own skills or investigating new approaches to problems and programming.”

It also results in high rates of fatigue, depression, insomnia and other stress-related conditions. The low levels in staffing have also led to higher levels of violence, the report concludes, in terms of clients harming workers as well as each other.

Over a four year period from 1998 to 2001 a total of 166 injuries resulting from violent incidents were reported for a full-, part- and casual staff of less than 100. In addition, many of the 71 head injuries and 91 strains reported (see table at end of article below) also resulted from violence. The report said its impossible to know how many incidents went unreported. In total, staff can expect about two violence-related injuries per year.

The report also criticized management for ignoring the practical knowledge staff had learned through working closely with the same clients over a long period of time.

“Rather than make use of what workers knew about how to help clients best participate in the social world, thus reducing violence and the stress associated with violence for both clients and workers, therapy plans that disrupted day-to-day ways of helping clients have been imported and imposed on the clients and workers.”

Employee injury report by injury type

•Pushed, grabbed or pulled hair: 12

•Kicked: 8

•Scratches and bites: 58

•Punches and hits to the body: 8

•Head injuries: 71

•Strains from lifts/restrains: 91

•Accident: 37

•Gender specific: 9

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