Workplace violence: Encourage healthcare staff to report assaults

Workplace violence is an ongoing problem in hospitals, especially for nurses. But a new commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says there is a promising solution: Healthcare leaders must encourage staff to report assaults and provide them with training on how to handle attacks. 

The problem of violence within hosptial walls is widespread. Roughly 24,000 workplace assaults in healthcare facilities were reported between 2010 and 2013, according to the commentary, including incidents that led to minor injuries, sexual assaults and homicides. Bureau of Labor statistics reveal that 50 percent of workplace assaults involve healthcare staff, and in 2013, 27 out of 100 patient or staff deaths in healthcare workplaces were due to such assaults.

The article, written by patient safety and workplace violence experts from The Joint Commission, Veterans Health Administration and Oregon Health and Science University, points to communication breakdowns, poor assessment of behavioral health in patients and a lack of needed patient observation as reasons why such incidents occur.

Workplace assaults are underreported so hospitals and other care facilities must have a robust, efficient system for reporting assaults when they occur, according to the article. Staff may not report assaults for fear of retaliation or that leaders won't do anything with the information. Therefore, the viewpoint urges healthcare leaders to support a reporting system that allows people to make anonymous reports. 

Support from the top down is key, according to the commentary. Nurses, especially, bear the brunt of abuse, from verbal insults to physical harm, FierceHealthcare previously reported, so facilities should offer extra protection to vulnerable staff, especially in a high-crime region.

Leaders must also clearly communicate safety plans and actively enforce them, according to the commentary, and staff and multiple levels must assess the risk factors for workplace assault. 

Training across all levels of a healthcare facility on how to handle workplace violence is also crucial, according to the article. The authors suggest that organizations Include details on safety plans and reporting protocols so that all staff are informed and encouraged to report assaults and other incidents, and cater training to the level of violence that is appropriate for specific facilities or departments.

- read the commentary