Workplace violence in healthcare settings has been an issue for some time. Threats of violence against doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel can come from irate patients or family, from co-workers often due to working in a stressful environment, and because of a termination or another typical workplace action. The COVID-19 crisis has intensified workplace violence in healthcare even more by adding additional demands on already tense conditions. Workplace violence can come in many forms including intimidation, bullying, threats, abuse, insults, and physical aggression. Sometimes these incidents can result in serious injury or death as in the case of an active shooter situation or other violent attacks.
Long before COVID-19, healthcare facilities experienced a high degree of workplace abuse, so much so that California has implemented legislation to protect healthcare workers in the form of the Cal/OSHA Workplace Violence Prevention Act in Healthcare (learn more about this legislation here). Many states are joining California in drawing up similar legislation that is expected to be introduced nationally at some point in time.
During the current COVID-19 crisis, there are reports of medical staff in the UK being told not to wear their uniforms outside their facilities to prevent attacks from people thinking they are spreading the virus (see that news article here). Similar reports have appeared in the US with nurses and other medical staff suffering verbal and physical abuse from patients and their families.
As emotions tend to run high in healthcare settings where a COVID-19 diagnosis can lead to an untimely death for some, healthcare workers need to protect themselves. At a minimum, healthcare professionals should consider following the tips below to prevent or handle a situation of violence at work:
- Whenever possible, avoid working alone with patients who have exhibited a propensity for violence
- Practice situational awareness and consider how you can quickly exit an area where an incident of violence or abuse has or could occur
- Ensure you maintain constant communication with co-workers and supervisors and ask for assistance if necessary
- Ask if your facility has a workplace violence prevention program and become familiar with related policies and procedures and what is being done to protect you
- If an incident occurs, move to a safe place and contact facility security and law enforcement for assistance
- Identify “panic” devices in your area or consider carrying one with you, and learn how to use it
- Healthcare facilities should consider creating and implementing a workplace violence prevention and mitigation program, and providing workplace violence training awareness, hostility management, and de-escalation techniques to all employees
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