Risk Insider: Allan Ridings

Protecting Health Care Workers From Violence

By: | February 20, 2015

Allan Ridings is a senior risk management & patient safety specialist at the Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in risk management and health care operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

Most of us have seen it happen to a colleague or been on the receiving end of abuse from an upset patient, family member or some other individual. Inevitably, we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What happened and how did it escalate to this level?
  • Was it something I did?
  • Was it something another physician or caregiver did or didn’t do?
  • What signs did I miss?
  • How can I be more observant and prepare for this in the future?

I’m talking about workplace violence in health care settings.

Workplace violence is considered any act or threat of physical violence, verbal harassment, intimidation or other disorderly behavior. These actions are often stressful, frustrating and can be physically harmful.

Many state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) departments believe that a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, with top-down guidance and staff training can reduce workplace violence.

It is essential that all workers understand the policy and know that all allegations of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.

Health care workers face an increased risk of work-related assaults stemming from several factors. Some include:

  • Patient frustration over service delays.
  • Burglaries of drugs or money from health care offices.
  • A growing proximity of gang members, addicts, or distraught family members to patients.
  • A growing frequency of weapons possession.
  • Fluctuations in staffing levels. Some attacks happen when staff is on a meal break or attending to other patients.
  • A lack of staff training in recognizing and managing escalating types of violent behavior.

The risk of assault can be minimized or prevented if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections that can be offered to health care workers is for their workplace to establish a zero tolerance policy toward any workplace violence. The policy must cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors and anyone else who may come in contact with personnel of the facility.

Having a zero-tolerance policy can assist staff members with common situations that may arise. Staff should be well-versed in conflict resolution during stressful situations. This will require training. Some of these policies should incorporate:

  • A written program for workplace violence, safety and security that should be incorporated into the office safety and health program.
  • Clear goals and objectives to prevent workplace violence that should be adaptable to specific situations in each department or location.
  • Responsibility for the program with individuals or teams through appropriate training and skills.
  • Adequate resources for this effort and the team.
  • A patient acknowledgment of “rights and responsibilities” including the facility’s zero-tolerance policy as it relates to verbal or physical abuse towards all staff, patients, or visitors.

A well-prepared workplace violence policy is a crucial and essential component of workplace safety. With this in place, educated staff members can evaluate and recognize potentially threatening situations and feel comfortable knowing they have the tools and the administrative support to professionally take control of a situation, if necessary. Some of these methods also provide employees with adaptable strengths to maintain safe working conditions, improve morale, safety and effectiveness.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]