Workplace violence is a serious safety concern, especially among health care workers who suffer the highest rate of assaults of any industry. Under employment laws employers have an important obligation to protect or address workplace violence. However, statistics from WorkSafeBC show 3722 health care workers were injured by violence at work between 2005 and 2012. Every year about two million workers in the US experience workplace violence. It is alleged that 17 percent of all self-reported incidents of violence including sexual assault, physical assault and robbery, occur in the workplace. The most violent assaults of health care workers happen in emergency rooms and psychiatric wards.
In October 2013, a mental health worker in Nelson was beaten unconscious by a patient who had made threats.
Last December a doctor was assaulted in Penticton.
More recently an attack on a nurse at Abbotsford Hospital, which was fined $75,000 for failing to protect workers from violence, is the latest in a string of assaults on B.C. nurses and doctors that many say should have been tackled differently.
Many health authorities have been penalized by WorkSafeBC after violent incidents occurred in their facilities.
Union representatives say that the process isn’t working to protect employees from unpredictable and often dangerous patients.
According to WorkSafeBC, employers must have a plan in place to deal with any patient known to present a risk to staff.
A $75,000 fine was imposed against Vancouver Coastal Health last summer, after Pam Owen, a recreational therapist, was assaulted by a psychiatric patient.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
WorkSafeBC suggests the following precautionary measures can be taken to address the problem of workplace violence in the health care sector:
- “Nurses and health care workers need dedicated security in ER, appropriate staffing and reports must be filed immediately with WorkSafeBC and police,” says B.C. Nurses’ Union vice-president Christine Sorensen.
- Training plans for staffto deal with an emergency situation
- Regulations followed by employers
There are also precautions workers can take to minimize or prevent violence on the job. For example:
- Don’t get drawn into arguments. Loud and aggressive arguments can easily escalate into physical fights.
- Take verbal threats seriously, but don’t respond to them.
- Report all threats to your supervisor or the company’s security department.
- Report all incidents of bullying and sexual harassment.
- Watch for unauthorized visitors, even those who appear to have legitimate business at your plant. Crimes have been committed by people posing as employees, contractors and repair persons.
- Report any suspicious person or vehicle to security personnel.
- Don’t give out information about fellow employees.
- Keep doors locked before your business officially opens and after closing time.
- Always have access to communication devices so you can notify someone for help. Speed-dialing numbers should be programmed into phones and emergency numbers should be listed at each phone.
- Some workplaces have predetermined code words so one employee can tell another about a dangerous customer or visitor without tipping off the suspect. Learn the distress signals used in your workplace.
- Wear your identification badge as instructed, and never lend your key or entry card to anyone. Notify the security office if you have lost your keys or pass cards. Keep your entry password a secret by memorizing it instead of writing it down.
- Trust your instincts. They act as your early warning system.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Before people explode in violence, they may give signals that something is wrong. There are a number of warning signs to let you know that trouble is brewing. Here are a few:
- Social isolation
- Decrease in personal hygiene
- Complaints of unfair treatment
- Faulty decision-making and poor judgment
- Inappropriate comments about revenge, violence or weapons
- Disrespect for authority