In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Occupational Social Work

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Government Resources

Social Work Occupational Social Work
Elizabeth Ann Danto
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0094


Occupational social work is the practice specialization in which programs and interventions are targeted specifically to the population of the workplace. Like all other fields of practice, occupational social work is bound by the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics and the association’s Guidelines for Culturally Competent Practice. But in terms of opportunities for innovative research, intervention, and program development for the future, occupational social work is as boundless as the global economy. Arguably the profession’s youngest practice domain, occupational (also called “industrial”) social work may look like other specializations in social work, all designed to remedy gaps in human and social needs, except for the unique focus of its client population: people in the workplace as a functional community, including employees, job seekers, labor union members, and retirees. Today’s occupational social workers are challenged to meet the social welfare needs of workers and work organizations on multiple levels of practice and to fulfill multiple roles, often in innovative but fairly small service delivery models. Occupational social workers are expected to comply with ethical practice standards and to be familiar with fundamentals of social policy (such as employment, unemployment, and marginal or underemployment); the cultural value of “work” (or its absence) within ideological frameworks and human development; the structure of work-based social service programs; the significance of substance abuse, mental illness, gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, and ability as workplace variables; and the historic centrality of work organizations and labor unions in the lives of clients and their families. This article contains information selected from the professional literature as well as allied social and behavioral sciences, social research and administration, and social welfare policy, including government resources. Program descriptions and treatment interventions are drawn from select clinical arenas, specialized journals, and web-based sources. Because occupational social work is international in scope, non-American sources are included if they are available in English.

Introductory Works

Because occupational social work is still relatively young as a practice specialization, these introductory readings refer to core theories, knowledge, and skills. Kurzman and Akabas 1981 was written in 1981, and it tells the beginnings of the story we read a generation later in Kurzman 2008, a thorough overview of the field in the early 21st century. Lewis 1997 says that this new field needs an equally new yet systematic set of skills, while Mor-Barak and Bar-Gal 2000 outlines how the field’s parameters fluctuated over two decades and where they are in the early 21st century.

  • Kurzman, Paul A. 2008. Occupational social work. In The encyclopedia of social work, 20 ed. Edited by Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis, 311–319. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A broad overview of the definitions, boundaries, conceptual frameworks, and trends in the field from its initial schema to its early 21st-century programs.

  • Kurzman, Paul A., and Sheila Akabas. 1981. Industrial social work as an arena for practice. Social Work 26.1: 52–60.

    The classic article that introduced a whole new field of practice; a must-read.

  • Lewis, Beth. 1997. Occupational social work practice. In Social work in the 21st century. Edited by Michael Reisch and Eileen Gambrill, 226–238. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

    How occupational social workers can apply systematically the specialized knowledge and skills they have accumulated in workplace settings to practice in welfare to work and other work-related programs.

  • Mor-Barak, Michὰ1le E., and David Bar-Gal, eds. 2000. Social services in the workplace: Repositioning occupational social work in the new millennium. Binghamton, NY: Haworth.

    This edited volume encompasses the scope of the field, its theoretical underpinnings and conceptual justification, research findings applicable to occupational social workers, and position papers on future directions within the profession.

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