Nursing Workplace Violence

Nursing Workplace Violence

Date Published

One of the first issues to address is the culture of acceptance about violence in nursing. Rhonda Collins, the chief nursing officer at Vocera Communications, a healthcare technology company, cautions that "workplace violence should not and does not 'come with the territory' of being a nurse. Healthcare leaders must aggressively act to address this epidemic by validating concerns and ensuring nurses are heard and respected when reporting violent acts."

What follows are some suggestions for proactive approaches to prevent workplace violence.

At the individual level:
Nurses should also be aware of their surroundings, taking into account poorly-lit areas, placement of emergency exits, and crowded public spaces. Nurses can minimize risks by avoiding clothing or jewelry that can be grabbed or pulled. They should exhibit caution when dealing with patients and others who exhibit aggressive verbal cues (e.g., swearing or threatening language), and non-verbal behaviors (e.g., indications of drug or alcohol abuse or throwing objects.)

At the employee level:
Nurses should become familiar with their employer's health and safety policies, report any incidents, and support employees who have experienced violence. Nurses need to become involved in the development of safety policies, procedures, and emergency plans. All personnel should take advantage of available employer-sponsored programs or professional development opportunities on how to respond and prevent violence and how to use de-escalation techniques.

At the employer level:
Collins and other nursing leaders argue that healthcare organizations must adopt a "zero-tolerance policy" on workplace violence. In addition to sponsoring educational and support programs, healthcare facilities must develop clear procedures for reporting violent incidents. To combat underreporting, employers must respond to violence seriously. Management has a responsibility to encourage staff to press charges against persons who commit assaults and to support employees when they report these incidents to law enforcement.

Healthcare facilities should upgrade and maintain security procedures and security systems, develop emergency response protocols, and hire sufficient security personnel. Collins suggests that employers provide nurses "with a wearable panic button that calls safety and security personnel so nurses don’t have to reach for a light on the wall when in distress."

At the legislative level:
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration does not require employers to implement violence prevention programs, but it provides voluntary guidelines and may cite employers who fail to maintain a safe workplace environment. In early 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention Act for HealthCare and Social Workers, but it has not yet received Senate approval.

Although no federal laws currently protect healthcare worker safety, several states have passed legislation to protect them from workplace violence. These measures include the establishment of penalties for assaults on nurses, creating a disturbance inside a healthcare facility, or interfering with ambulance service. Only a small number of states require employer workplace prevention programs.

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