NNU survey: Healthcare orgs can do more to protect nurses from workplace violence

Healthcare employers aren't doing enough to protect nurses from violence in the workplace, according to a new report.

National Nurses United, a major union, polled (PDF) nearly 1,000 nurses working across the country and found that 81.6% had experienced at least one kind of workplace violence during the past year. 

In addition, nearly half of those surveyed (45.5%) said there was an increase in violence on their units last year, while just 3.8% said they saw a decrease in workplace violence incidents.

For example, a nurse working in California said they experienced "verbal assaults on a nearly daily basis," according to the report. "Lots of hitting, kicking, scratching."

"It's all just part of being a nurse," they continued. "Even the workplace violence training is aimed at protecting yourself from physical abuse … not how to prevent it."

The most common type of violence reported in the survey was verbal threats, noted by 67.8% of the nurses. More than a third (38.7%) said they had been physically threatened, and 37.3% reported pinching or scratching.

Just 18.4% of those surveyed said they had not experienced violence in the workplace, according to the report.

Despite the risks, less than two-thirds of those surveyed (62.8%) said their employers offer violence prevention training. Training alone will not prevent incidents of violence, but it is a cornerstone of addressing these issues, according to the report.

Relatively few (31.7%) said their employer has a clear protocol for reporting incidents of violence, and just 29.5% said there is enough staff on hand to address violent incidents if they occur. Only 17% said their employer has placed additional staff members to reduce the risk, according to the study.

"I think there’s just such a big relationship between [workplace violence] and staffing when you don’t have enough staff, not even just nurses," a nurse working in Minnesota said. "I’m even speaking about like, support staff. Where I worked, we had psych associates. When you don’t have enough of those people there, I think that patient needs go unmet and that causes an escalation of frustrations.”

Beyond staffing, the study also found fairly low uptake of other potential prevention methods. About a quarter (24.8%) said their employer deploys security cameras, 15.4% said they limit visiting hours and 7.1% use metal detectors.

"This data underlines the importance of taking timely action to protect nurses, other health care workers, and patients from workplace violence," the report's authors wrote.