Workplace violence: Think ahead, support nurses

Sign that says "Hospital"

Workplace safety is a hot-button topic within the healthcare sector, and hospital leaders must address numerous hazards that particularly affect nurses, who are prime targets for patient abuse.

Nurses are often on the receiving end of everything from abusive language to physical assault, and often their employers blame the victims for failing to keep patients under control, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Part of the problem is a widespread acceptance of such incidents as part of the job. In recent years, some providers have worked to reduce danger by flagging patients with histories of abusive behavior or signs of escalating behavior. “This is no different than when a patient is flagged for falls or pressure ulcers or having some kind of infection,” Irene Andress, chief nursing executive at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, told CMAJ. “We put you in a particular environment. We wear gloves and masks. Why should we manage violent situations any differently?”

Hospitals increasingly flag patients without histories of violence who still pose risks, although some have warned this means hospitals need firmer definitions of what constitutes escalating behavior. Additionally, a rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration set to take effect in August will require all hospitals and providers to submit injury data for publication, while providers such as UCSF Medical Center has worked to reduce workplace injuries by adding robots for heavy lifting.

Hospitals can also head off violence by analyzing other common factors, according to Minority Nurse. For example, research shows incidents tend to occur during periods of heavy activity, such as visiting hours or meals, or in periods of low staffing. The most vulnerable categories of nurses include those who work in remote or high-crime locations. The publication also recommends hospitals provide nurses with escorts such as security guards or fellow workers to signal for help if necessary in potentially unsafe situations.

- here’s the CMAJ piece
- read the Minority Nurse article