Violence in the Healthcare Field
Today more than 5 million U.S. hospital workers from many occupations perform a wide variety of duties, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition to the safety and health hazards they already face, now they have to worry about violent attacks as well. According to estimates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2,637 nonfatal assaults on hospital workers occurred in 1999-a rate of 8.3 assaults per 10,000 workers. This rate is much higher than the number of assaults in private-sector industries (which is 2 per 10,000 workers.)
What is workplace violence?
Workplace violence ranges from offensive or threatening language to homicide. NIOSH defines workplace violence as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed toward persons at work or on duty.” Examples of violence include the following:
- Threats: Expressions of intent to cause harm, including verbal threats, threatening body language, and written threats.
- Physical assaults: Attacks ranging from slapping and beating to rape, homicide, and the use of weapons such as firearms, bombs, or knives.
- Muggings: Aggravated assaults, usually conducted by surprise and with intent to rob.
Why is this Happening?
There are several factors that increase the risk of hospital violence on employees. According to NIOSH, these include:
- Working directly with volatile people, especially, if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or have a history of violence or certain psychotic diagnoses
- Working when understaffed-especially during meal times and visiting hours
- Long waits for service
- Overcrowded, uncomfortable waiting rooms
- Working alone
- Poor environmental design
- Inadequate security
- Lack of staff training and policies for preventing and managing crises with potentially volatile patients
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Access to firearms
- Unrestricted movement of the public
- Poorly lit corridors, rooms, parking lots, and other areas
When and Where Does this Violence Occur?
Where: Violence may occur anywhere in the hospital, but it is most frequent in the following areas:
- Psychiatric wards
- Emergency rooms
- Waiting rooms
- Geriatric units
When: Periods of high activity and interaction with patients are prime times for assaults to occur, examples include:
- When service is denied
- When a patient is involuntarily admitted
- When a health care worker attempts to set limits on eating, drinking, or tobacco or alcohol use
- Meal times
- During visiting hours
- During patient transportation
Safety Tips for Hospital Workers
Safety tips for hospital workers provided by NIOSH:
1. Be alert:
- Evaluate each situation for potential violence when you enter a room or begin to relate to a patient or visitor.
- Be vigilant throughout the encounter.
- Don't isolate yourself with a potentially violent person.
- Always keep an open path for exiting-don't let the potentially violent person stand between you and the door.
2. Watch for signals that may be associated with impending violence:
- Verbally expressed anger and frustration
- Body language such as threatening gestures
- Signs of drug or alcohol use
- Presence of a weapon
3. Maintain behavior that helps diffuse anger:
- Present a calm, caring attitude
- Don't match the threats
- Don't give orders
- Acknowledge the person's feelings (for example, “I know you are frustrated”)
- Avoid any behavior that may be interpreted as aggressive (for example, moving rapidly, getting too close, touching, or speaking loudly)
4. Take these steps if you can't defuse the situation quickly:
- Remove yourself from the situation
- Call security for help
- Report any violent incidents to your management
Contact an Experienced Workplace Injury Attorney
Thomas J. Henry fight to protect the rights of workplace injury victims. If you have been injured while on the job or if your employer has not put the safety of its employees first, contact Thomas J. Henry. The goal of our offices is to not only protect your rights, but to send a message to your employer so the same tragedy does not happen again.