Violence Against Healthcare Workers


There are many scenarios healthcare workers face that could potentially get violent, from a manic psych patient lashing out to a patient’s angry family member. Violence against healthcare workers happens more than in any other industry, as is evident in an article published last year. Although the issue of violence in the healthcare industry has been identified and studied in depth over the past several years, researchers have found that many times healthcare workers are not reporting all of the violent incidences that take place. Researchers have created surveys for physicians and other healthcare workers to take that could help in reporting violence against healthcare workers, but at the moment there seems to be no clear solution for how to fix it. Some argue that there should be improved security in healthcare facilities, while others have highlighted tips for how providers can protect themselves from violence in healthcare settings.

Stats on Violence Against Healthcare Workers

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016 cited that:

  • Between 2011 and 2013, 75 percent of all workplace assaults reported happened in healthcare settings.
  • For emergency medical workers, 80 percent will experience violence at some point during their careers, and 78 percent of emergency department physicians reported being the target of workplace violence in 2015.
  • For those working psychiatry physician jobs, 40 percent report a physical assault, and the rate of workplace violence among psychiatric aides is 69 times higher than the national rate of workplace violence.

Limited data is available in the outpatient settings, the article said. There also seems to be a lack of laws protecting healthcare workers from abuse.

What is Considered Violence?

There are obvious acts of violence against healthcare workers, like stabbings and shootings, but what else is considered violence? Violence can include physical assaults or even threats of assault. It can also include verbal violence, hostility, or harassment that causes psychological damage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. Violence can come from patients, visitors, intruders, and even coworkers, OSHA said.

Moves to Stop Violence Against Healthcare Workers

Some ideas for preventing violence against healthcare workers include increasing hospital security, such as installing metal detectors, as well as hospital security guards carrying guns. There’s been an increase in the number of hospital security guards who are carrying guns, according to an article in Becker Hospital Review. In 2014, 52 percent of hospitals reported their security guards carried handguns, while 47 percent reported arming them with Tasers, the article said. Although guns on security guards are not as obvious to everyone, the installation of metal detectors in hospitals is something all visitors would notice. The supporting argument for putting metal detectors in hospitals is that it would prevent patients and visitors from being able to enter the facility with weapons. The downside to putting metal detectors in hospitals is that it would take away the sanctuary setting that hospitals are supposed to create.

Three Tips for Physicians on Preventing Workplace Violence

There are some things you can do as a physician to protect yourself from violence against healthcare workers. Here are three tips for protecting yourself from potential workplace violence:

  1. Crisis Intervention. If you are working with people who have a history of violence, mental illness, or who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, make sure you know how to provide crisis intervention. If someone is anxious or on edge, it’s important that you know how to talk to them and calm them down. You should also know what your hospital’s emergency preparedness plan is, and what proper protocol is for a violent situation.
  2. Pay Attention. Are you working alone? Is the hospital you work at in a high-crime area of the city? Are you understaffed and overcrowded? These are all risk factors that can lead to violence against healthcare workers, so make sure you are on high alert during these times.
  3. Don’t allow it. If someone is getting aggressive with you, don’t think that you can talk down the situation or handle it yourself. Call security right away. The presence of security, even if they don’t physically do anything, can stop an intense situation from escalating. If you tolerate verbal abuse or aggressive conversation from your patients, this can give them the perception that violence is tolerated and won’t be reported. Make sure that you’re clear with everyone that there must be calm communication and respect.

The reality is that many healthcare workers themselves are under the impression that violence is just part of the job. Which is sad and wrong. Workplace violence is never okay no matter the situation. What has your experience with workplace violence been, and what are some precautions you take to protect yourself from violence against healthcare workers?

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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