Workplace violence in the health care industry

By: Olivia Burgher, Loss Control Associate

Workplace violence refers to any violent act (i.e., threat, assault, etc.) that causes disruption at a work site. Although such incidents can occur in any environment, some businesses are at a higher risk than others. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from 2002 to 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence were on average four times more common in health care than in private industry. This trend may be influenced by conditions common in healthcare facilities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) named the following possible factors:

  • Working with patients who have a history of violence or are under the influence of drugs
  • Dealing with stressed or angry patients and visitors
  • Lifting, moving, and transporting patients
  • Long wait times and overcrowded waiting rooms
  • Understaffing and high worker turnover
  • Unrestricted public access and inadequate security
  • Working in neighborhoods with high crime rates
  • Availability of large quantities of drugs

It may be easily assumed that these conditions along with the actions of others are out of our control, but there are ways to prevent and prepare for potential acts of violence. One strategy involves training workers on how to spot the signs of potential violence in patients, visitors, and coworkers.

Some common indicators are:
In patients and visitors – having a history of violence; overreacting to uncertainty or delay related to health problems; threatening staff; demonstrating excessive anger or frustration; blaming others for their problems; using abusive language; throwing or punching objects; appearing to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs; showing or claiming to have a weapon

In coworkers – making verbal threats; blaming others; being angry, defensive, or paranoid; seeming overwhelmed by their problems; abusing alcohol or drugs; shifting towards troubled behavior; becoming involved with weapons

It may also be beneficial to develop a formal workplace violence prevention program. The program should address the following elements: management commitment and worker participation; worksite analysis and hazard identification; hazard prevention and control; safety and health training; and recordkeeping and program evaluation. Additionally, staff members should receive training on how to respond in an emergency situation. The training curriculum may include procedures for emergency communication and notification, de-escalation strategies, lockdowns, exiting/evacuation, etc. By making the commitment to safety, both employers and employees can cultivate an environment free from violence. For additional information and training resources on workplace violence, visit OSHA’s website.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us at losscontrol@markel.com or your attorney if you have any questions. The article may not be linked to, copied, reproduced, republished, posted, or distributed in any way by non-policyholders of Markel®, without permission.