Three Lessons About Workplace Violence Prevention

A nurse is stabbed during her rounds. A surgeon is shot by the son of a deceased patient. A nurse’s leg is broken by a slammed door.

Though they may seem like something out of a nightmare, for healthcare professionals the potential of workplace violence represented by true stories, like these, is all too real.

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), between 2011 and 2013, the number of workplace assaults in the US averaged 24,00 annually – and nearly 75 percent of those took place in healthcare settings. Another NJEM review estimates that of the healthcare workers that do experience assault, only 30 percent of nurses and 26 percent of doctors’ report violent incidents.

Workplace violence rates have also increased globally. In Canada, it’s estimated that half of healthcare workers experience some form of violence while on the job.  Studies have revealed that while all healthcare workers are at risk, specific departments carry even higher risk. In Australia, up to 90 percent of emergency department staff have experienced some type of violence.

For many in healthcare, it’s not surprising that for many years, workplace violence in healthcare was understudied and underreported – in fact, that reality remains very true today. However, organizations are working to change the status quo and to encourage staff to report their experiences.

In the last month we’ve had the chance to learn from some amazing leaders in workplace violence prevention. Here are three things we learned:

  1. Make capturing information as accessible as possible

In 2008, the newly formed workplace violence committee at Vanderbilt University and Medical Center began working to quantify workplace violence events. “The committee noticed that they were missing some information that wasn’t being recorded very well at the time,” shared Kevin O’Bryant, Data Analyst, at his recent presentation at RL Connections.

After updating to RL6, Vanderbilt learned at Palooza that Windsor Regional Hospital had created a workplace violence reporting section in RL6:Risk. They decided to replicate the form and adapt it to their facility. By including a workplace violence category on every form in the system, Vanderbilt has made reporting incidents highly accessible.

  1. Never stop training

You can never have enough training. Unfortunately, workplace violence has become so common place in healthcare that staff often consider it “just part of the job.” Changing this perspective takes time and demonstrated effort across the organization, including from leadership.

During a recent presentation at ASHRM 2017, the security team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital shared that after implementing their workplace violence prevention program they ran blitz training with staff throughout the organization for the first two years – and have run refresher training ever since. Some of the topics they cover include:

  • Teaching staff how to proactively look for clues and signs of violence.
  • De-escalation training to teach staff to employ customer service techniques and “to reach for your personal skills fast.”
  • Training that educates staff about the wide spectrum of unacceptable behavior that falls under workplace violence
  1. Don't underestimate the impact of stories 

In 2016, North Shore Medical Center distributed a workplace violence survey to all staff. They were blown away by the overwhelming number of responses they got from staff throughout the organization. The survey also provided them with valuable data about experiences of workplace violence and reporting rates.

However, according to Carrie Arrieta, Risk Manager at North Shore Medical, stories of personal experience still have the biggest impact, especially when trying to mobilize organization wide involvement.

“We need to hear the stories and make people see it – and then we need to work collaboratively to see how we can make things better,” says Carrie.

How are you generating awareness about workplace violence? Let us know in the comments – and check out our whitepaper on strategies to improve reporting

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