Workplace Violence: Report Confirms Growing Concerns 

‘One in five healthcare workers feel unsafe at work.’

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor

Workplace violence directed at healthcare workers already had been on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but the pandemic drove up the frequency of violent incidents even more. As a result, healthcare workplaces are among the most dangerous environments in institutional and commercial facilities. What are employers doing to protect workers? One point of emphasis in achieving this goal is providing training to workers aimed at diffusing and preventing crisis situations. 

A recent report by the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) “Workplace Violence Prevention Training,” paints a grim picture of healthcare organizations’ efforts to provide training to help workers facing such threats. The report compiles responses from 1,196 healthcare professionals. The median time respondents have worked in health care is 10 years, and the median hospital size for respondents is 92 beds. 

Among the report’s findings is that most health systems do not provide frequent, systemwide de-escalation training, and their staff do not feel comfortable addressing a crisis. Seventeen percent of healthcare professionals surveyed believe their staff feel very or mostly unsafe. 

“One in five healthcare workers feel unsafe at work,” says Tony Jace, CPI’s chief executive officer. “I can't think of another market or industry where we accept 20 percent of our staff feeling incredibly unsafe in their work environment.”  

The report sets a benchmark score to quantify leadership in creating safe workplaces, and it finds that the average score comes in 21 points below that benchmark. Only 18 percent of 2023 survey respondents scored in the Leaders benchmark, which means earning a score of 76 or more in their organization’s workplace safety and preparedness to respond to a crisis.  

Why is workplace safety lacking in healthcare? Many organizations continue to cite a lack of resources, time, budget and the ability to pull staff off the floor as barriers for implementing on-going system-wide safety training. 

The report also contains these findings: 

  • Eighty-two percent of organizations are at a high risk of an unsafe work environment. 
  • Fifty-five percent believe their workplace violence policies are only somewhat or not effective in reducing workplace violence. 
  • Sixty-four percent of organizations do not provide frequent de-escalation training. 

The report also found that many organizations lack a formal infrastructure designed to address workplace violence and worker training. Nearly 70 percent of organizations do not have an established workplace violence committee with clearly defined policies and governance. While the industry has started to see slight progress in the facilitation of violence prevention committees with defined policies and governance — an increase of 6 percent compared to 2022 — it still falls 24 points below the Leaders benchmark. 

The report also found that only 33 percent of healthcare organizations report they implement system-wide de-escalation training to all staff, signifying there is a lot of room for organizations to improve. Many leaders might feel overwhelmed to implement this level of training, according to the report, but it becomes an easier task when organizations train staff members specific to the way their role experiences risk and the way they are expected to respond. 

“The key is that there is predictable escalation of a crisis moment,” Jace says. “How staff interact with patients or visitors in these moments and apply strategies at every stage of a crisis can either de-escalate or escalate a situation. That’s why de-escalation training for all staff is incredibly important.” 

How can healthcare organizations improve the safety of their workplaces and protect staff from workplace violence? 

“I think there’s been a bit of an erosion of trust from leadership, all the way down to the frontline workers,” Jace says. “Hospitals and health organizations need to show their staff that they are supported. Safety is one element of that support, but also it’s important that leaders create a culture of trust where they can empathize, and in some way, show they understand what staff are going through on a daily basis." 

Healthcare organizations can participate in the survey to get a score for their healthcare system. They also can download the annual report

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 

July 10, 2024

Topic Area: Safety

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