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How Nurses Can Combat Violence in the Workplace

Nursing is a fast-paced profession requiring difficult decisions in constantly changing circumstances. It is not unusual for nurses to encounter abuse or violence where they work. Workplace violence can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide. In a healthcare facility, perpetrators can include patients, visitors, and current or former staff.

What Factors Contribute to Violence in Healthcare?

A number of factors play into the incidence of violence in healthcare. For instance, a short-staffed facility can mean overworked employees resulting in caregiver fatigue. Crowded emergency rooms and the corresponding wait times can cause patients and their family members to become distraught and even angry. Healthcare staff must be prepared for the hostile reactions they may face when they deliver bad news to patients. Intoxication and mental illnesses like dementia can spawn violent behavior too.

What Types of Incidents Occur in Healthcare?

Nurse may experience a multitude of actions that are menacing or violent. Verbal abuse may consist of insults, threats, bullying, swearing and yelling, while physical attacks may include assault, biting, choking, hitting, kicking, pinching, pushing and slapping.

What Can Nurse Managers Do to Protect Nursing Staff?

Nurse managers should develop protocols that help nursing staff identify and deal with disruptive or difficult patients. Here are some things nurse managers can do to protect their nursing staff.

  • Brief nurses about any events of inappropriate conduct or assaults.
  • Ensure adequate staffing with appropriate nurse-to-patient ratios.
  • Provide de-escalation and safety training, and equip them with defensive techniques in case violence erupts.
  • Have backup plans ready when needed.
  • Conduct emergency-preparedness exercises.
  • Encourage nurses to report incidents.

What Measures Can Healthcare Organizations Take to Prevent Violence in the Workplace?

The potential for danger makes it tough for healthcare organizations to keep a balance between security and accessibility. But there are steps they can take to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence:

  • Implement safety measures around isolated areas, or areas with poor lighting, blocked visibility, absence of escape routes and a lack of protection for nurses from potentially dangerous people.
  • Employ security personnel and monitor surveillance cameras.
  • Install panic buttons, metal detectors, alarm systems and remote-controlled doors.
  • Limit visiting hours for guests.
  • Connect with law enforcement to stay informed of potentially problematic patients.
  • Remove furniture that can be used as weapons.
  • Require employees to wear badges or nametags.

By streamlining the registration process, shortening waiting times and employing enough nurses to meet the demand for care, healthcare facilities can address the root cause for triggers of violent behavior from patients and their families or staff.

Along with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, workplace violence prevention programs can help defend healthcare workers and ensure their safety.

Learn more about ULM’s online RN to BSN program.


HealthLeaders: 5 Ways to Combat Workplace Violence

Modern Healthcare: Healthcare Workers Face Violence ‘Epidemic’

U.S. News & World Report: Nurses Face More Violence From Hospital Patients Lawmakers and Hospitals Take Action to Curb Violence Against Nurses

ResearchGate: Workplace Violence against Health Care Workers in the United States

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