RNs face threat of violence at work

Nursing can often be dangerous work. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms what we know: healthcare workers are at high risk of violent assault on the job. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), although nurses are three times more likely than any other professional group to experience violence at work, more than 80 percent of all assaults on registered nurses go unreported. All too often, nurses accept violence as part of the job.

All of us pay a price for an unsafe workplace. Some reports suggest the prospect of workplace violence is the most anxiety-provoking aspect of a nurse’s work.

Nurses should not have to tolerate working in a volatile setting that threatens our safety and undermines our ability to provide quality care to patients.

Defining workplace violence

Workplace violence is easy to recognize when it involves assault. But it is more than that. NIOSH’s definition includes “threats of assaults directed toward persons at work or on duty.” Others define workplace violence more broadly as any incident that explicitly or implicitly threatens staff safety, well-being, or health. Intimidation, shouting, racial and sexist slurs, humiliation, degradation, and disrespectful and condescending language all constitute forms of violence.

Nurses must deal with angry patients at times. Anger is most likely, according to NIOSH, to turn to violence in a healthcare setting during times of high activity, when a patient is being transferred, when services are anticipated but denied or delayed, during involuntary admissions, or when a nurse is attempting to set limits.

The consequences of workplace violence in healthcare facilities can be staggering. Conservative estimates put the cost at $4.3 billion annually, or about $250,000 per incident. But the cost isn’t just in dollars. Violence fuels staff turnover, which increases recruitment and retention expenses and workers’ compensation claims. Stress and injury lead to increased absences, putting greater stress on those left to do the work with inadequate support, further undermining staff morale. This environment erodes what trust exists between management and nurses, which may lead to higher incidences of patient complaints and greater risk of stress in patients. The overall effect: a great likelihood of the occurrence of a violent incident.

Violence prevention

Your hospital should have a workplace violence prevention program in place to protect nurses and other healthcare workers from violence and abuse. The policy should, among other things:

  • Establish a clear zero-tolerance policy.
  • Protect workers who report violent incidents from reprisals.
  • Set clear procedures for handling violent incidents.
  • Provide a response team.

Nursing is about caring for others. But that cannot mean that we put ourselves at risk of physical assault or abusive treatment. Inadequate staffing levels, excessive workloads, and requiring staff to work alone or in isolated areas make violence a more likely part of our work lives.

NYSNA is offering an all-day workshop – “Violence in the Workplace: Nurse Leaders Organizing a Response and Action Plan” – several times throughout the year and across the state. Ask your union rep for details or call the Meeting and Convention Planning Department at 800.724.NYRN, ext. 277.

Together, we can demand a safe and just workplace free from violence for all caregivers and patients. Get involved.

If you are being assaulted:

  • Get help – push the security button, make a scene, shout – and get away.
  • Get medical attention.
  • Call security and/or the police as soon as possible.
  • File an incident and police reports, and tell your steward and NYSNA Representative

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