Eye on Ethics: Managing Risk—The Third Rail in Social Work Ethics

Frederic G. Reamer, Rhode Island College


In electrical rail systems, the third rail carries very high voltage, so touching it is extremely dangerous. In social work ethics, I think of the third rail as those high-risk circumstances that greatly increase the likelihood of harm—to clients, third parties, and, possibly, social workers. These are the cases for which there are no simple answers, and there is some nontrivial risk no matter what course of action a social worker takes.