The Impact of COVID-19 on Workplace Violence
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused strain within the healthcare sector. Clinicians, patients and families around the world are under high levels of stress due to overcrowded healthcare facilities, limited resources and devastating loss of life. It’s important for healthcare organizations to equip frontline staff with tools and resources that help them de-escalate and prevent instances of workplace violence. Establishing a reporting culture, collecting data to understand the scope of workplace violence at an organization and providing comprehensive training and education are strategies that healthcare organizations can utilize in their workplace violence prevention efforts.
Workplace violence is a growing public health concern–– one that disproportionally impacts healthcare workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site,” ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that healthcare workers in hospitals are five times more likely to sustain injuries from workplace violence incidents.
Workplace violence involves direct physical assaults or harassment and encompasses non-physical violence such as written or verbal threats and harassment. The effects of workplace violence are serious and far reaching, affecting the health and wellbeing of staff, putting health-care provision at risk and causing significant financial loss within the health sector.
When healthcare staff experience workplace violence, these traumatic situations affect their psychological and physical well-being as well as their job motivation. Following an incident, staff can suffer from increased stress, insecurity, anxiety and fear. Instances of workplace violence also put the safety and wellbeing of patients at risk. When caregivers are fatigued, injured and under high amount of stress, they run a higher chance of making errors that could negatively impact the health of patients.
The financial impact of workplace violence is another challenge facing the industry. A 2016 report from the American Hospital Association (AHA), “estimated that proactive and reactive violence response efforts cost U.S. hospitals and health systems approximately $2.7 billion in 2016.”
Despite the immense hurdles related to workplace violence in healthcare, organizations can take action to implement tools and initiatives to mitigate occurrences of workplace violence and protect staff, patients and families.
Establish a Robust Reporting Culture
To encourage staff to report incidents, it’s important for them to know what to expect when reporting an incident. They need to know there will not be retribution in response to their report, that the issue will be listened to and addressed and that they will receive an update on steps leadership has taken to ensure that the issue is corrected.
Equally important is the action that leaders take to investigate the root causes of these incidents. Are staff prepared to know how to respond when an instance of workplace violence arises? Does the organization provide adequate educational resources for staff to access on workplace violence?
Workplace violence is often underreported due to factors including a lack of time to report following an incident, reporting systems that are difficult for staff to access or use, inadequate or an unknown definition of workplace violence and a belief that workplace violence is “part of the job.” Providers should feel equipped to report instances of workplace violence, whether through a supervisor, department or incident reporting tool.
One way to promote a culture of reporting is to implement a safety huddle program. These short meetings at the start of each workday in a clinical setting help care teams discuss critical safety events such as instances of workplace violence or situations that could escalate and become violent. Safety huddles help healthcare organizations improve communication and increase awareness among staff about potential safety events that could impact patients, staff and families.
Collect Data to Understand and Identify Risk of Violence
To work towards preventing workplace violence, healthcare leaders first need to understand the scope and prevalence of the issue within the organization. This can be done by collecting cross-functional input from administrators, clinical staff, patients and families. Leaders gain a clear picture of the specific challenges facing their organization when this data is gathered to identify trends and problem areas. RLDatix understands the important role data plays in keeping patients safe. Our tools equip healthcare organizations with what they need to effectively capture and learn from data to mitigate organizational risk.
After identifying the scope of workplace violence at an organization, leaders can then work to remediate those risk factors and implement solutions to support frontline staff. While each organization’s tactics to prevent workplace violence varies, strategies could include implementing access restrictions, visitor screenings and increased security presence.
Provide Comprehensive Training and Education
Raising awareness of workplace violence prevention should be an integral component of an organization’s approach to their broader culture as well as the day-to-day environment in which staff are working. Providing workplace violence prevention training materials for healthcare workers helps educates providers on key mitigation strategies, de-escalation tactics and ways to intervene early to identify a potential violent incident before it escalates.
Screening for violent individuals and situations helps each member of the care team remain aware of potential risks. OSHA recommends that organizations provide annual workplace violence prevention training but advises that high-risk workplaces may require training on a more frequent basis.
An organization's policies and procedures on workplace violence is important to promote education around this issue, keep staff safe and prevent staff from working in fear. Requiring staff to read and sign off on these policies helps ensure that they are staying up-to-date on the organization’s expectations around reporting and handling incidents related to workplace violence.
Have a workplace violence prevention strategy to share? Let us know below.