As defined by OSHA, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide (AIHA, 2022).
Some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. Workplace violence can occur anywhere; no workplace is immune. Some workers, however, are at increased risk. Among them are:
Workplace violence continues to affect all industries, especially healthcare. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that injuries to healthcare workers by another person more than doubled from 4,010 in 2011 to 8,590 in 2020. Intentional injuries to all types of workers also increased over that period, but by a less extreme 29%.
The COVID pandemic has led to even more reported incidents of violence because of the heightened levels of stress felt by patients, family members and visitors. Pre-pandemic surveys found about 70% of emergency room nurses and just under 50% of emergency physicians had been hit or kicked on the job. About 50% of nurses surveyed by National Nurses United, reported that violent incidents had increased since 2020.
A Fact Sheet published by the American Hospital Association (AHA) reported that “44% of nurses had experienced physical violence and 68% reported experiencing verbal abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workplace violence has severe consequences for the entire health care system. Not only does violence cause physical and psychological injury to health care workers, workplace violence and intimidation make it more difficult for nurses, doctors, and other clinical staff to provide quality patient care. Nurses and physicians cannot provide attentive care when they are afraid for their personal safety, distracted by disruptive patients or family members, or traumatized from prior violent interactions.”
Hospitals, health systems and their employees have expressed a strong interest in enacting a federal law that would protect health care workers from violence and intimidation, just as current federal law protects airline and airport workers (AHA, 2022).
Against this backdrop, what can healthcare workers and other workers in high-risk industries do to create a safer workplace environment? In a word, training, especially in de-escalation and situational awareness skills. The Defense Awareness Response Training (DART) organization offers highly effective courses in violence prevention and violence management for workplace situations.
Managing violent behavior cannot be the sole responsibility of staff! It must be managed at all levels of an organization, including top management. That is why DART recommends that human service organizations adopt an effective Workplace Safety System (WSS) that is aligned with OHSA guidelines. This interdependent system includes the following components:
DART’s Resource Section has many valuable resources that can help organizations develop violence prevention strategies that incorporate components of the Workplace Safety System described above. If your organization is interested in DART’s Verbal De-escalation Training, click here.