Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is an epidemic in healthcare facilities. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), nurses and direct care aides experience more violence than any other hospital personnel.

While overall occupational injury and illness rates in the U.S. are falling, workplace violence is on the rise, particularly in the healthcare setting. The National Crime Victimization Survey reports that healthcare workers experience a 20 percent higher rate of violence than all other professions.

Violence in healthcare is on the rise

The rate of violence in healthcare has increased every year but one between the years 2011 and 2018. Learn more about why rates of violence are so high in healthcare, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the risk of violence in our latest Workplace Violence Fact Sheet.

If you’re assaulted on the job

Take these steps if you’re assaulted on the job:

  • Seek medical care immediately
  • Report the assault to your supervisor and file an incident report
  • File a workers’ compensation claim
  • Contact your NYSNA representative to inform them of the incident and to receive assistance if needed

Under certain conditions, assaulting a nurse is a Class D felony under New York State law. If you are assaulted, you should consider contacting your local police to press charges.

Prediction and Prevention

Numerous myths exist regarding workplace violence, including an attitude that it is “just part of the job” and that violence cannot be predicted. However, there are many actions that healthcare facilities can take to prevent violence against workers.

OSHA lists the following risk factors for workplace violence:

  • Working directly with people who have a history of violence, abuse drugs or alcohol, gang members, and relatives of patients or clients
  • Transporting patients and clients
  • Working alone in a facility or in patients’ homes
  • Poor environmental design of the workplace that may block employees’ vision or interfere with their escape from a violent incident
  • Poorly lit corridors, rooms, parking lots and other areas
  • Lack of means of emergency communication
  • Prevalence of firearms, knives and other weapons among patients and their families and friends
  • Working in neighborhoods with high crime rates
  • Lack of facility policies and staff training for recognizing and managing escalating hostile and assaultive behaviors from patients, clients, visitors, or staff
  • Working when understaffed—especially during mealtimes and visiting hours
  • High worker turnover
  • Inadequate security and mental health personnel on site
  • Long waits for patients or clients and overcrowded, uncomfortable waiting rooms
  • Unrestricted movement of the public in clinics and hospitals
  • Perception that violence is tolerated and victims will not be able to report the incident to police and/or press charges

OSHA has produced a five point plan for reducing workplace violence, including commitment to management and employee participation, a thorough analysis of risks, active prevention, and training and evaluation.

A detailed description of effective violence prevention programs is included in OSHA's Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers. Visit OSHA's website for complimentary tools and resources on workplace violence. 

Protection for Public Sector Nurses

The NYS Department of Labor Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH) requires public sector employers in New York State to institute workplace violence prevention programs. These programs must include:

  • Employer/employee collaboration
  • Risk hazard assessment
  • Implementation of controls
  • Records review, walk around
  • Written policy statement
  • Written program
  • Training
  • Recordkeeping and reporting
  • Periodic review (at least annually)

New standards by the Joint Commission (TJC) place additional requirements on accredited employers related to the prevention of violence in the workplace. The new standards went into effect as of January 1, 2022. Although the TJC has been slow to adequately address the crisis of workplace violence in healthcare settings, NYSNA welcomes TJC’s renewed focus on this issue. Learn more about The Joint Commission Standards on Workplace Violence.

Learn more

To learn more about preventing workplace violence in the healthcare setting, attend the NYSNA workshop “Violence in the Healthcare Setting” and download and print NYSNA's Workplace Violence brochure. To learn what constitutes felony assault and what to do if you are assaulted on the job, download and print the Nurse Felony Assault Law Fact Sheet.