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Workplace Violence

What You Can Do About It

Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they can also be places of violence. Approximately 11,370 assaults took place in the nation’s health care facilities in 2010, up 13% over the number recorded in 2009. And in the year 2000, 48% of all non-fatal injuries from occupational assaults occurred in the health care and social services setting.

Why are health care facilities at such risk? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration chalks the statistics up to the fact that handguns and other weapons are increasingly prevalent among patients and/or their family and friends. Hospitals are also used by the criminal justice system for criminal holds and care of acutely disturbed and violent individuals, and hospitals have drugs, which make them a target for robberies. Plus, mental health patients may be released without appropriate follow up care.


Other factors may also come into play, including low staffing levels, being alone with patients during examinations or treatment, lack of communication devices or alarm systems in case of an impending assault, poor lighting in parking areas, and lack of staff training in recognizing and managing escalating hostile and assaultive behavior.

Layoffs can also push some people over the edge. The prospect of being out of work is too much for some people to handle and they erupt with violent behavior directed at the person or persons they believe caused their problems – most often the manager who was forced to lay them off but sometimes coworkers as well, who they believe unfairly still have their jobs.

A similar situation can result from disagreements among staff members, and lower level staff have also reported verbal abuse and bullying by physicians or other upper level staff members.

Common sense rules

What can or should you do if you’re confronted by a hostile or aggressive patient, visitor, or fellow staff member? A study published in Rehabilitation Nursing in 2010 suggests several strategies that could help you combat the negative consequences of workplace violence:

  • First and foremost, always carry your cell phone so that you’ll have a way to call for help if needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell the hostile person to stop being violent (sometimes they just need to hear it out loud).
  • Learn self-defense tactics so you can defend yourself should the situation escalate to true physical violence.
  • If the potentially violent individual is a staff member, report him or her to your superiors and limit your interactions with the person whenever possible.

Following these simple, common sense rules can help ensure that you don’t fall victim to workplace assault.