Have you ever experienced a violent situation while on the job? If not, it is likely that you will at some point in your career. It is even more common than you might think. OSHA reports revealed that “From 2002 to 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence were four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry on average.”1 This includes physical or threats of assault directed toward personnel at work or on duty. According to U.S. News and World Report, “Healthcare workers suffer more workplace injuries than any other profession, with about 654,000 harmed per year on the job.”2
These statistics are staggering and even more so when considering that many incidents may never even get reported. That’s because only serious incidents resulting in lost work hours were documented by OSHA.
Examples of a violent event include verbal abuse or threats from upset patients and/or their family members, physical attack, or even an active shooter situation.2 Bullying by coworkers may include uninvited physical contact, sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems, status slaps intended to humiliate their victims, rude interruptions, two-faced attacks, dirty looks, recruiting others to be bullies, or treating someone as if they are invisible.
The effects are far-reaching, from physical injury or psychological trauma to the negative feelings involved such as hurt, anger, frustration, and humiliation. Victims who feel less safe in the workplace may display job dissatisfaction through decreased productivity, absences, and general burnout that can lead to a decrease in the quality of patient care.3
Acts of violence also take a toll on productivity. Healthcare workers involved in workplace violence are four times more likely to miss work.4
Offices that do not have an adequate reporting policy in place only exacerbate the issue. Incidents may go unreported or they may be documented improperly. Victims may fear retaliation or distrust that the system will protect them properly from the hazard. Some workers might not recognize a risk as significant or valid or think that it’s part of the job. For instance, healthcare workers may risk their own safety to help a patient in distress. Because of this, medical offices must establish a clear definition of what constitutes workplace violence.
Setting Guidelines in the Workplace
Safety of healthcare workers should be at the forefront of running a practice to provide better conditions for both the staff and the patients. A Texas Standard broadcast aired in August of 2018 outlined the importance of establishing guidelines, especially in a healthcare setting because under reporting is so common.4
Employers must define what constitutes workplace violence with a written policy and provide the structure for reporting incidents without fear of retaliation. Training helps employees understand proper protocols and safety procedures so that if a violent situation occurs, the incident can be accurately documented and reported.
OSHA recommends establishing a violence prevention program with clearly-outlined policies that include warning signs to look out for as well as the safety procedures and protocols for documenting and reporting incidents. An effective workplace violence prevention program should include the following:
- Management commitment and employee participation,
- Work site analysis,
- Hazard prevention and control,
- Safety and health training, and
- Record keeping and program evaluation5
After an Incident Occurs
It is more likely that violence in the workplace will occur in healthcare than any other industry. When it does, it is important to put the safety of your patients and employees first. Preplanning and having the proper procedures in place puts you in a better position to manage an incident when it occurs. It is important to identify post-incident protocols including support resources such as first aid, counseling, or other ongoing assistance available to employees as needed.3
When your office recognizes the severity of workplace violence and takes full responsibility in providing the support and resources necessary, everyone working in the office will be in a much better position to handle these jarring and impact events appropriately.
Nationally-decorated police officer, Ed Pietrowski and partner Heidi Wysocki of First Defense Solutions, will present a webinar on Active Shooter Response Preparedness September 20.
Compliance experts Robert W. Liles and D.K. Everitt will address workplace violence and other compliance issues in, Hot Button Issues Impacting Healthcare Employers, presented at PMI’s National Conference for Medical Office Professionals in October.