Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Today more than 5 million U.S hospital workers perform a wide variety of duties.  This could expose them to many safety and health hazards, including violence.  Recent data indicate that hospital workers are at a high risk for experiencing violence at work.

Workplace violence can be any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening and/or disruptive behaviors that occurs at the worksite.  It can affect and involve workers, clients, customers, and visitors. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.

Here are some shocking numbers involving violence in the healthcare industry:  In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found healthcare and social assistance workers were the victims of about 11,370 assaults at work.  This is a 13% increase from the numbers reported in 2009.  Almost 19% of these assaults happened in nursing and residential care facilities alone.

Several studies indicate that violence often takes place during times of high activity and interaction with patients, such as at meal times and during visiting hours and patient transportation. Assaults may occur when service is denied, when a patient is involuntarily admitted, or when a health care worker attempts to set limits on eating, drinking, or tobacco or alcohol use.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence ranges from offensive or threatening language to homicide. NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) 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.

It is very important for employees to be trained on how to deal with violence in a healthcare setting.  Creating a violence prevention program is crucial and provides guidelines for workers who may come into contact with patients and visitors who are violent.  For more information on this important aspect, please see OSHAcademy’s free online course 776 Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare.