Occupational Injury Among Healthcare Workers on the Rise Due to Workplace Violence
With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and healthcare workers are more important than ever. But in addition to the increased health risks of working during a pandemic, healthcare workers are also at risk of workplace violence. Labor department numbers have shown that since 2011, hospitals across the nation have seen a 60% increase in the rate in attacks reported against healthcare workers. More than half of Texas’ nurses have reported being verbally or physically assaulted on the job—and that doesn’t include the incidents that go unreported.
A Look at the Statistics
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the rate of serious violence towards healthcare workers (meaning, the rate of violent incidents in which the injured worker needed days off to recover) more than four times greater than those in other industries. They cite working with people with a history of violence, mental health problems, and substance abuse issues as well as people who are ill and/or on drugs as one of the major risks to healthcare workers.
However, they also noted that workplace violence against healthcare workers is “vastly underreported,” even at facilities with official incident reporting systems. They cite a survey of 4738 nurses in Minnesota that found that 69% of physical assaults and 71% of non-physical assaults were reported to a superior, and another study that found one in two incidents by patients to nurses never get reported in writing.
A federal study done in 2016 backs this up. Run by The Department of State Health Services, the study sampled 1114 registered and licensed vocational nurses working in hospitals, nursing facilities, home health agencies, and emergency medical care facilities. The participants were asked about their career experience, and whether or not they had been on the receiving end of violence in the workplace. Most of them said that they had, at some point in their career, been physically attacked, verbally abused, or sexually harassed on the job. And for some, the violence escalated to physical altercations, with an average of 11.8% of nurses having experienced physical violence while on the job.
In addition to surveying healthcare workers on their occupational injuries, the study also surveyed 960 employers in the healthcare industry on their facility’s protocol for violent incidents and their workplace violence prevention programs, if any. Of the facilities surveyed, 73.4% stated that they had a program or policy implemented to respond to and try to prevent workplace violence against nurses. However, when nurses were asked to rate their employers’ workplace violence, only 54.1% of those sampled said they felt “very safe” working at their facility, and 49.3% stated they felt their organization was effective at managing workplace violence.
In 2013, Texas legislature passed a bill enhancing the penalty for assaulting a healthcare worker, making the offense equal to harming a first responder. In 2018, a grant program working to lower the number of incidents against nurses was passed. Currently, however, there are no national laws in place to combat the issue. Some states, such as California and Washington, require healthcare facilities to create and implement violence prevention plans, but there is no federal requirement for employers to protect their employees.
A Texas state representative named Donna Howard is working to change this. Formerly an intensive care unit nurse, Rep. Howard is no stranger to the violence faced by healthcare workers on the job. Now a longtime advocate for healthcare worker safety, she is fighting to pass legislation protecting nurses and other healthcare workers from physical and verbal abuse in the workplace.
If the legislation is passed, all healthcare facilities in the state of Texas would be required to work with health care providers and employees to “adopt, implement, and enforce a written workplace violence prevention policy” to protect their workers. OSHA urges healthcare facilities to encourage worker involvement when creating and implementing these policies in order to make them most effective.
In addition to requiring creation of committees to prevent workplace violence, healthcare facilities would also have to offer medical treatment and other help for victims, and make it illegal for facilities to penalize workers for reporting abuse faced. In the state of Texas, more than a third of nurses surveyed for the 2016 report said that they hadn’t reported a violent incident because it was considered “part of the job,” and because they did not expect a report to change anything.
In a statement, Rep. Howard said that we should be taking care of healthcare workers just as they take care of us, and that essential workers are more important than ever with the onset of the pandemic. The best way to show healthcare workers that we care is by implementing workplace violence protocols in hopes of proactively preventing these types of violent and often traumatic incidents from occurring and giving the victims of workplace violence the assistance and support needed when they do.
If you or a loved one has been injured while on the job, it’s important to speak to an experienced Work Injury Lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact our Personal Injury Lawyers to see how we can help. Set up a free consultation by calling 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form and we will get back to you shortly.