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Threats Facing Healthcare Workers Today

Verbal abuse and physical assaults of healthcare workers are on the rise, and they’re injured on the job by other people at a much higher rate than private-industry employees.

Healthcare workers face many of the same daily challenges in the workplace as other employees do. But they also risk safety threats ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults. Unfortunately, this disturbing behavior is on the rise. Between 2002 and 2013, incidents of workplace violence were four times more common in healthcare than in private industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Additionally, healthcare and social assistance workers suffer from injuries inflicted by another person much more than private industry workers, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Does the Research Show?

Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, and the Executive Chief Nursing Officer at Cleveland Clinic, defines workplace violence as any act or threat of violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior that is not just physical.

“Healthcare organizations need to take care of their employees so they can care for their patients,” Hancock said.

Hancock believes workplace violence is a national problem, one that is not just limited to a single city or hospital.

“Unfortunately, it is all too common in the news these days,” she said. “Society has changed, and there is more violence. In addition, we are seeing the effects of drugs, alcohol, mental health, and stressful environments.”

A 2017 article from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that among state-run hospitals, predominantly psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, the most common event leading to injuries in 2015 was violence and other injuries by persons or animals (4,590 cases).

When the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2017 that involved days away from work, including “intentional injury by another person,” some 71% were reported in the healthcare and social assistance sector.

What Can Healthcare Providers Do?

So how can hospitals balance security concerns and offer accessible facilities to patients and their visitors? Hancock believes awareness and training of hospital staff is key.

“Emergency departments are the front door to society, and what occurs there reflects what is happening in society,” Hancock said. “There is a balance that does need to occur between being accessible and keeping people safe, and it’s one we carefully assess each day.”

Hancock’s approach to solving the problem is three-fold, focused on drawing attention to the issue, reporting incidents, and responding efficiently.

“[Violence] isn’t part of the job, and we want our caregivers to tell us about it,” Hancock said. “Then, it’s about responding to it and preventing future episodes of workplace violence.”

Hancock said it is key that healthcare workers speak up when workplace violence occurs.

“Encourage your staff to speak up to create a culture where they feel comfortable saying something and then ensure you address it when it occurs,” she said. “All of the steps we’ve taken are about awareness and giving our caregivers the tools they need to keep patients, visitors, and themselves safe.”

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