Many hospital administrators pay close attention to workplace safety issues such as ergonomic injuries and infection control, but they do not give the issue of workplace violence the attention it deserves. In January 2015, members of a national nursing union organized a protest to increase awareness of the violence often directed at nurses. They say workplace violence is an epidemic in the nursing profession, but many health professionals fail to report violent behavior.
Nurses are exposed to four types of violence on the job: criminal intent, worker-on-worker, customer/client and violence related to a personal relationship. Criminal intent means the perpetrator has no relationship with the facility or its employees. This type of violence is usually perpetrated during robberies and other crimes. Worker-on-worker violence occurs when an employee bullies or physically assaults another worker.
Customer/client violence is the most common type of workplace violence faced by nurses. Patients in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other medical facilities may kick, punch, bite, spit or display other violent behaviors. Visitors may also display violent behavior toward nurses and other health professionals. Personal relationship violence occurs when the victim has a relationship with the perpetrator outside of work. If a husband comes into a hospital and hits his wife, that is an example of personal relationship violence.
Unfortunately, nurses often hesitate to report incidents of workplace violence to their supervisors or human resources representatives. Under-reporting occurs for several different reasons. Some nurses mistakenly believe dealing with violence is just another part of the job. Not all medical facilities have consistent reporting policies or standardized procedures for reporting workplace violence. If incidents of violence are a common occurrence, nurses may feel that it takes too much time to fill out a report every time a patient or co-worker displays violent behavior. Finally, some nurses are afraid to report workplace violence because they are afraid doing so will reflect poorly on them.
In some cases, personal relationship violence is part of the domestic violence an employee deals with at home. Abusers try to control their victims by showing up unannounced or making threatening phone calls. The threatening behavior may extend to co-workers who try to stick up for their colleagues. Many employees are hesitant to admit that they are being abused because they feel ashamed or worry about how it will affect their professional reputations. Your facility should have a policy in place to address domestic violence in the workplace.
Nurses aren't the only health professionals who deal with workplace violence, but they are especially vulnerable because they provide so much patient care. Nurses also have a great deal of contact with family members and visitors. This is why it is so important to ask for input from several nurses before you make any changes to workplace safety policies.
If your facility does not currently have a procedure for reporting incidents of violence, make it a priority to create one. By encouraging nurses to report workplace violence, you have the opportunity to improve morale and protect all employees against violent behavior.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net