Healthcare workers are at a higher risk for violence in the workplace compared to other fields, but there are steps that health organizations can take to better protect employees.
The Joint Commission issued a report this week in conjunction with Workplace Violence Awareness Month offering seven prevention steps providers can follow. The steps seek to help hospitals in assisting their workforce in avoiding incidents and offer more comprehensive support when they do.
"I've been bitten, kicked, punched, pushed, pinched, shoved, scratched and spat upon," said Lisa Tenney, R.N., of the Maryland Emergency Nurses Association in the report. "I have been bullied and called very ugly names. I've had my life, the life of my unborn child and of my other family members threatened, requiring security escort to my car."
Healthcare workers are especially vulnerable to violence in the workplace. Though they account for just 11% of the total workforce, health workers are the victims of 57% of workplace assaults. Nurses are especially vulnerable to violence and are likely to bear the brunt of most verbal and physical assaults.
The seven steps health systems can take to address workforce violence include:
- Establish a clear definition of what constitutes workplace violence and build systems to encourage reporting.
- Gather data and track trends, including in situations where employees may not have been harmed but still felt unsafe.
- Offer any support that is necessary to staffers who have been victimized, including counseling and trauma care.
- Analyze violence on a case-by-case basis to identify interventions that may be most effective for specific organizational needs.
- Build quality improvement programs that include workplace safety as a component.
- Train staff members in self-defense and de-escalation.
- Evaluate and study prevention initiatives that may be currently in place.
Ana Pujols McKee, M.D., the commission's executive vice president and chief medical officer, said in an announcement that healthcare workers may be hesitant to report instances of violence, as they may believe it's simply "part of their job" or that patients can't be held responsible for such actions.
"When violence occurs, it should be immediately reported to leadership, internal security and, as needed, to law enforcement," McKee said. "Such reporting can help healthcare organizations analyze what happened and inform actions that need to be taken to minimize risk in the future."
National Nurses United, the country's largest nurses' union, has also weighed in on workplace violence recently, saying it's crucial for violence prevention programs to appoint a person who can be accountable for overseeing it. Staff members need to be educated in recognizing warning signs, too, according to NNU.