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Massachusetts lawmakers create bill to improve workplace safety for social workers

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Albany/HV: Massachusetts lawmakers create bill to improve workplace safety for social workers
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Governor Patrick is expected to sign a bill to increase workplace safety for social and human service workers. YNN's Madeleine Rivera talks to some people in those fields to find out how they expect to benefit from the new legislation.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- "We work with folks who have significant mental health issues and sometimes really struggle with health issues that are beyond their control. So we are faced with unexpected situations," April Roche, Director of Clinical Services at Hillcrest Educational Centers.

Hoping to address these risks, Massachusetts lawmakers created a bill that introduces a workplace safety program for these employees.

"These are the people who are in the front lines of some very difficult challenges, tend to be some of the lowest paid state workers in all of Massachusetts doing the hardest work," said State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, who serves the 4th Berkshire District.

Pignatelli says this initiative is long overdue.

"I think it's a validation and recognition of how important the work that they're doing and how we have to protect that going forward," he said.

The bill does outline several initiatives to increase workplace safety. These include a violence prevention plan, training social workers and recording incidents of workplace violence. But the question that's not too far from anyone's mind is money.

"I think the challenge as we come up with new policies and new requirements is how you fund those. But clearly, workplace safety is the number one priority for us," said Gerard Burke, President of Hillcrest Educational Centers.

And there are many risks, especially when social and human services workers work irregular business hours or visit a patient in his or her home. But many organizations have safety measures in place.

"One of the most important things is to not be isolated in this kind of work and being able to offer people support to ensure that they are not isolated," said Roche.

"All of our staff have cell phones that we make sure are provided to them that in an emergency. They can immediately call 911 and get the support that they need," said Christine Singer, Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy of the Berkshires.

The bill will officially go into law when Governor Patrick signs off on it.

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