Workplace violence in Health Care


Logo for the United States Occupational Safety...

Logo for the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although workplace violence is a major concern in many work settings, and in health care settings, nurses, nurses aids and orderlies are at highest risk for violence (WSNA, 2008, OSHA, 2004). The Bureau of Labor and Statistics in 2001 concluded that 48% of nonfatal injuries against workers occured in health care (WSNA, 2008). Of these incidents of violence against health care workers, patients were responsible for more than half of the assaults, and former or current co-workers were responsible for 8% of the violence (WSNA, 2012).

I have often thought that nurses, nurses aids, and other health care workers who work in home health care and mental health institutions would be the most at risk. A close friend who is a nurse shared her experiences as a home health nurse in her early career, where she often checked on elderly patients in very poor and run down apartment housing. She was once confronted by a large male who cornered her in a stairwell, addressing her in a frightening way. She calmly told him that she was a nurse and he let her go. She said those encounters were not rare. I also witnessed a violent patient in a mental health ward becoming uncontrollable and looking like he may assault anyone in his way. He was quickly subdued with a shot of something, but it was scary to witness, even though I was not in danger myself.

After researching the topic of workplace violence, it is eye opening to see all the sources of aggression against health care workers who commit their careers to serving and helping others. Domestic violence brought into the workplaces is one source of violence against health workers. Spouses of hospital workers show up where their spouse works and assaults her or other people in the vacinity in a rage of domestic violence situation. Drugs and alcohol used by patients or family members, long wait times, psychotic and demented patients, and weapons all contribute to assaults on health workers (WSNA, 2008).

In Columbus, Ohio, Erin Riley, an emergency room nurse was assaulted by a psychotic patient on one occasion and gropped by a drunken patient as she cut put him in a hospital gown  (Smyth, MSNBC, 2010). A male nurse in this MSNBC article was punched by a junkie patient who also threatened to come back and shoot him. Here is compelling article about violence against nurses:

Another source of violence against nurses comes from other health workers. Lateral violence involves bullying, “verbal abuse, backstabbing, sabotage, and withholding information” (WSNA, 2010). Other forms of aggression may involve humiliation or intimidation by coworkers or bosses. Violence against health care workers is an occupational hazard that OSHA and nurse associations are addressing. The issue is likely to affect health workers for some time, and it is important to continue to address the issues, report them, and look for solutions.


British nurse in nurses' station.

British nurse in nurses' station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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2 Responses to Workplace violence in Health Care

  1. Very informative post! My mom is was a nurse for many years. In her time as a health care provider she was assaulted several times over the course of several years. She says she doesn’t regret a thing. She says when you agree to help people that is your ultimate goal and all situations can be dealt with, usually if the nurse is more experienced though. I feel for the nurses that have to endure any type of assault from a patient. There are preventative measures some homes and hospitals take to ensure the safety of there staff. When it’s all said and done nurses should be covered in case things should get out of hand.

  2. Thank you for your comments and for sharing your mother’s story. It is nice to have a nurse’s perspective on the topic. Thank you for your interest in our blog.

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