May 09, 2023

Workplace Violence: A Serious Concern for Healthcare Workers

Workplace violence can strike anywhere at any time. Any individual can be affected by instances of violence in the workplace. Unfortunately, thousands of American workers report incidences of workplace violence every year. In 2020, 20,050 private industry workers reported trauma from nonfatal workplace violence.

What is Workplace Violence?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), workplace violence consists of physically and psychologically damaging actions in the workplace or while on duty. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) further defines violence in the workplace as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to sexual harassment, physical assaults, and even homicide.

NIOSH classifies workplace violence into four basic types. Types II and III are the most common in the healthcare industry.

  • Type I: Involves individuals with criminal intent who have no relationship to the business or its employees.
  • Type II: Involves a client or patient that has a relationship with the business and becomes violent while receiving services.
  • Type III: Involves a worker-on-worker relationship and includes employees who attack or threaten another employee.
  • Type IV: Involves personal relationships and includes individuals who have interpersonal relationships with the intended target but no relationship to the business.

How Does Workplace Violence Affect Healthcare Employees?

Compared to other workplaces, some studies have found that healthcare workers are at a higher risk of experiencing workplace violence. In 2020, 20,050 private industry workers reported trauma from nonfatal workplace violence. Of those victims, 73% were female, and 76% worked in the healthcare and social assistance industry.

In addition to staffing and workload issues, healthcare professionals have recently observed a worrying trend in patient behavior, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and other health crises such as monkeypox and the opioid epidemic. Stericycle’s 2022 Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report (HWSTR) reveals crucial insights into healthcare workers’ perspectives on their safety. 

Healthcare workers reported patients refusing recommended care (67% of providers and 70% of administrators), behaving poorly (64% of providers and 69% of administrators), and becoming combative more frequently (53% of providers and 57% of administrators). In fact, 45% of the providers surveyed reported feeling less safe at work than they did a year ago, and 49% reported that they or a colleague were assaulted or injured. The report also reveals that 80% of providers and 70% of administrators say patients’ behaviors and attitudes influence their sense of safety in the workplace.

Without a safe and secure environment, workloads will continue to increase, while workforce staff will most likely decrease.  

Both situations will result in more overwhelmed and stressed employees. Therefore, providing a safe work environment for providers and administrators should be a priority for healthcare organizations.

How Does Workplace Violence Affect Nurses?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 8% to 38% of nurses experience violence in the healthcare setting at some point in their careers. Violence against healthcare workers has increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. Studies indicate that 44% of nurses report experiencing physical violence, and 68% report experiencing verbal abuse during the pandemic. That equates to roughly 57 assaults per day, 1,739 assaults per month, and 5,217 assaults per quarter.

These statistics emphasize the need to implement measures to help prevent and mitigate workplace violence in the healthcare industry.

How to Help Prevent Workplace Violence in Healthcare?

Reducing and eliminating the risk of workplace violence is critical to employee safety. To help achieve this, OSHA suggests  Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers, highlighting the importance of a written, organized workplace violence prevention program to an organization's overall safety and health program.

OSHA's guidelines specify five key elements that can contribute to the development of an effective workplace violence prevention program:

  1. Management commitment and employee participation: For a violence prevention program to be effective, top management should be involved; there should be continuous worker participation and regular follow-up meetings to help ensure its impact and continuity.
  2. Worksite analysis: This consists of a systematic and organized assessment of the workplace to detect existing or potential threats that could lead to incidents of workplace violence. Collaboration between workers and management in identifying and assessing risks is the foundation of an effective violence prevention program.
  3. Hazard prevention and control: Once the systematic analysis of the workplace is complete, it is vital to identify and evaluate workplace hazard control options and then select and implement feasible controls to eliminate or reduce risks, along with following up to confirm that these controls are being used and maintained.
  4. Safety and health training: Education and training are critical elements of a workplace violence protection program. Education and training programs provide employees with knowledge and awareness of potential hazards, as well as how to protect themselves and their colleagues through established policies and procedures.
  5. Recordkeeping and program evaluation: To properly evaluate the program’s effectiveness, it is necessary to maintain records to identify progress, deficiencies, or changes required.

Safety and prevention of workplace violence scenarios should be a priority for all organizations. A well-planned program with clear objectives, regular follow-ups, and constant evaluation will contribute to preventing future cases of violence.

Learn more about the Workplace Violence Prevention Module in Steri-Safe® OSHA Training and Compliance Solutions and how Stericycle can help you maintain a safer workplace.

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