Workplace violence (WPV) is a recognized hazard in the healthcare industry. WPV is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It can affect and involve workers, clients, customers and visitors. WPV ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data reported healthcare and social assistance workers were the victims of approximately 11,370 assaults by persons. Almost 19% (i.e., 2,130) of these assaults occurred in nursing and residential care facilities alone. Unfortunately, many more incidents probably go unreported.
Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. The truth is, workplace violence can strike anywhere, anytime, and no one is immune. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain work sites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence. Providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served may also impact the likelihood of violence. Additionally, time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence.
In most workplaces where risk factors can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. By assessing their work sites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. OSHA believes that a well written and implemented Workplace Violence Prevention Program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and Federal workplaces. This can be a separate workplace violence prevention program or can be incorporated into an injury and illness prevention program, employee handbook, or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to ensure that all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. In addition, OSHA encourages employers to develop additional methods as necessary to protect employees in high risk industries.
The cost of violence prevention is small, however, when compared to the amount that hospitals lose in worker-compensation lawsuits every year and in time off due to injury—roughly a third of which is patient-inflicted, according to OSHA statistics. There needs to be a cultural change that it’s not okay to hit a nurse. Until then, any intervention that is attempted is unlikely to be accepted. Workplace violence is a complex issue in today’s health care environment and nurses acting on their own have very little influence over the level of violence in their workplaces.