Workplace violence is at an all time high in the US. Sadly, this epidemic has spilled over into the healthcare industry. More and more episodes of a threatening nature are occurring daily, putting patients and caregivers at risk. While violence anywhere is abhorrent, it seems like violence in healthcare is even more so.
Safety is Your Right
As an employee in any field, you have the right to be safe at work. As a nurse, or any employee in the healthcare field, you need to be free of fear in order to perform your duties and provide care for your patients. In certain situations, such as home health care, your place of employment, i.e. the patients residence, and the individuals who live there, have been fully vetted to ensure your safety. As most home care nurses travel alone this is essential to their job.
For those in hospital settings, it’s much more difficult to prevent assaults and injury, especially in such specialties as psych or Trauma and the ER. Roughly 80% of ER nurses and staff have reported some level of violence against them, and about 60% of home health caregivers report similar threats carried out. This type of violence can range form verbal abuse, to physical assault, to life-threatening injuries and even homicide.
Defining Workplace Violence for Nurses
According to OSHA, healthcare workplace violence includes the above, and behaviors such as bullying, becoming agitated and abusive, and intimidation. Many of the patients who exhibit these behaviors aren’t known to be violent. However, due to certain circumstances, they aren’t fully aware of their actions. Patients suffering from dementia, for example, can become violent toward their care givers in the blink of an eye, changing from docile and cooperative to raging.
Likewise, those patients who suffer from delusions, drug-induced psychoses, mental challenges and intoxication can easily turn violent with no notice. When someone is raging and out of control, whether or not they are aware of what they’re doing, hospital staff and those who work in healthcare facilities, can become the victim of violence.
Recommendations for Reducing Workplace Violence
It is the duty of your employer to provide a safe working environment and your hospital, nursing facility, clinic, or physicians office likely has protocols in place for dealing with such events. However, there are some guidelines of which you should be aware in order to protect yourself from harm while providing care. These 4 recommendations for reducing workplace violence can be applied to healthcare environments as well as any workplace where employees may feel threatened.
- Knowledge and Training: Knowledge is power and knowing what to look for and anticipate in an agitated, delusional or intoxicated patient will allow you to take the proper measures in order to avoid injury, or worse. If your workplace doesn’t offer this type of training then find a way to advocate for it. Present a clear and concise picture of the impact of workplace violence in healthcare to your supervisor. Alert them of the facts, and most especially, the employers liability in such matters.
- Early Recognition and Zero Tolerance: If someone should bring a weapon of any kind into your facility or hospital, alert security. The offending individual should then be removed from the property and banned from further contact. A zero tolerance policy is essential to keeping employees and patients form devastating harm. All too often the signs are there. Encourage your employer to hold a training session on how to spot the signs early enough to prevent casualties.
- Speak Out: The whistleblower law protects you from any adverse action by your employer (such as firing you, demoting you, or not being equitable when it comes to shifts) so should you witness an environment that seems unsafe and carries a potential for violence, speak up. Notify your supervisor and, of need be, OSHA. You may feel a bit apprehensive but by speaking out the life you save may be your own.
- Go to Your Professional Organization: Many organizations now provide training and advocacy when it comes to threatening behavior and workplace violence in healthcare. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American Nurses Association are worthy organizations and can provide you a wealth of suggestions on how to combat workplace violence in healthcare. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a information and strategies specifically designed to help nurses avoid workplace violence.
Obviously you can’t always see a violent act coming your way. But by increasing your own awareness, as well as that of those around you, and keeping the threat in the public eye, you can prevent a good bit of the potential for workplace violence, as well as create a necessary conversation that will keep concerns in the forefront and possibly make training mandatory for all those who work in healthcare.