Occupational Health & Safety
Violence and assault against health care workers, especially nurses, is on the rise—and some studies suggest it’s spiked nearly 110 percent.
Unfortunately, the healthcare professions are not averse to violence in the workplace. But while violence is more common for health care workers, that does not make it “acceptable,” nor is it a good thing that violence and assault are actually on the rise for the industry.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there are four types of workplace violence in the healthcare field:
A number of surveys highlight the prevalence of violence among different healthcare professions and found that:
Healthcare worker safety affects companies and businesses, too. OSHA reports that between 2002 and 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence (those requiring days off for the injured worker to recuperate) were four times more common in healthcare than in private industry on average. The costs to help a worker who has suffered violence or hire a new nurse can be immensely high—sometimes as much as $103,000.
Nurses work in high-stress environments. Patients are in need of intense care, and families or visitors of patients are often emotionally strained. Some patients may have a history of violence or may be under the influence of drugs. Many nurses have to lift, move, and transport patients. Some hallways in healthcare facilities have poor lighting, and many facilities are in neighborhoods with high crimes rates.
While some violence may be unavoidable in the health care industry, there are two main ways this issue can be addressed: by encouraging more healthcare employees to report violence and by actively seeking solutions to make the healthcare industry safer.
Workplace Violence is Underreported
Having a formal incident reporting system does not ensure that healthcare workers will actually report violence when it occurs. In fact, data shows that the many healthcare workers, especially nurses, do not report workplace violence.
One survey of 4,738 Minnesota nurses found that only 69 percent of physical assaults and 71 percent of non-physical assaults were reported to a manager, while one medical center found that half of verbal and physical assaults by patients against nurses were never reported in writing. Bullying and other forms of verbal abuse are often underreported as well.
Survey found that the reason healthcare workers underreport incidents is because of a lack of reporting policy, a lack of faith in the reporting system, and fear of retaliation. This means there is a bigger issue at play.
There are a handful of ways workplaces can mitigate violence risks for employees—and a lot of it comes down to trust. In addition to making sure there are violence reporting systems in place, employees need to be encouraged to report the violence. Beyond that, employees need to have significant faith and trust in their employers or companies to treat the reports with respect.
Other aspects can help address violence against healthcare workers beyond just trust, however.
OSHA has a webpage called Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers which describes five components of an effective workplace violence prevention program. OHSA also has Preventing Workplace Violence: A Road Map for Healthcare Facilities that expands OSHA’s guidelines and presents case studies and successful strategies from a variety of healthcare facilities. Workplace Violence Prevention and Related Goal: The Big Picture explains how you can achieve synergies between workplace violence prevention, broader safety and health objectives, accreditation, and a “culture of safety.”
More than 30 states now have increased penalties for assaults of nurses, one article explains. Ohio requires hospitals to post warnings about violent behaviors, and Hawaii passed a resolution encouraging leaders in healthcare to establish standards of conduct and policies for managers and employees to reduce workplace bullying and promote healthful and safe work environments.
With a combination of changes in workplace laws, reporting attitudes, and encouragement for employee safety, hopefully the violence rate against healthcare workers can be diminished. Highlighting the issue, though, is only the beginning.