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Workplace violence: Harm to patients and caregivers is preventable

What is Workplace Violence?

The CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed toward persons at work or on duty.2

The U.S. Department of Labor defines workplace violence as an action (verbal, written, or physical aggression) which is intended to control or cause, or is capable of causing, death or serious bodily injury to oneself or others, or damage to property. Workplace violence includes abusive behavior toward authority, intimidating or harassing behavior, and threats.3

“Personal boundary violation is not part of our job description. That statement is powerful because boundary setting is a part of our job,” said an emergency department nurse. “If we fail to establish and maintain personal boundaries, then we’ve compromised the safe and therapeutic environment in which we’re able to truly care and advocate for our patients. We have an obligation to stand up against that which is unsafe, and I believe that ending nurse abuse is critical.”

That’s how my conversation began with an emergency department nurse who experienced on-the-job violence. She is just one of thousands of nurses and other care providers who have been harmed by patients while at work.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) #EndNurseAbuse movement is one example of how many national organizations are taking a stance and trying to shed light on this important issue. Another is the Joint Commission who issued a Sentinel Event Alert to bring more awareness to the seriousness of the issue and outline seven actions every healthcare setting must implement to create safer workplaces. (Read the alert and see the infographic at https://www.jointcommission.org/sea_issue_59/).1

Our role as caregivers is to establish a trusting relationship with patients and when that relationship is compromised after an assault, we may be left with a lasting fear for our personal safety. When you walk into a patient’s room, you enter with a sense of confidence. But this type of event jars that confidence. Getting back to the level of how it felt pre-assault takes a long time and may require long-term support systems that healthcare facilities may not have in place.

illustrated humans acting out at each other

The Safety Issue

Workplace violence impacts personal and patient safety in many ways. From a personal safety and performance perspective, some are obvious such as increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. The entire team is also impacted by lower morale, reduced creativity and communication that is hindered by fear. Workplace violence also creates a threat to maintaining a healthy, safe and supportive workplace for healthcare providers and patients.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 75% of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults reported annually occur in healthcare and social service settings. But we know that number is grossly underreported because only about 30% of nurses report violent incidents. Abusive physical and verbal conduct is not part of anyone’s job and has no place in healthcare settings. It’s not okay, and really is a big deal…for the caregiver, for the organization and for society. Report it if it happens to you. Tell someone if you see it happen. Let’s do everything we can to stop it and prevent it. The next victim could be you or me!

We are Here to Help

SaferCare Texas is committed to improving health care for all Texans. If you would like one of our experts to speak to you and your peers regarding Workplace Violence in a Healthcare Environment, please call us today at 817-735-7633.

References:

  1. The Joint Commission. Physical and verbal violence against health care workers. Sentinel Event Alert, 2018;59.
  2. The Joint Commission. Behaviors that undermine a culture of safety. Sentinel Event Alert, 2008;40.
  3. The Joint Commission. The essential role of leadership in developing a safety culture. Sentinel Event Alert, 2017;57.

Written by Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN on January 9, 2019