News & Events

Groundbreaking survey on workplace violence released

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2005 Edition

The Massachusetts Nurses Association Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force, in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, recently released the results of the first-ever survey on the prevalence of workplace violence for nurses in the state, showing an alarming number of nurses have experienced workplace violence in the last two years, and the overwhelming majority cite poor staffing conditions as a primary cause.

The study documents responses of 172 nurses working in a wide variety of specialty areas from three different MNA facilities and a pilot group who attended the MNA 2004 Convention.

Key findings of the study include:

  • More than half of those surveyed report that workplace violence has been a serious problem in the last two years.
  • Just over 30 percent report being regularly or frequently physically threatened; and between 25 and 30 percent were regularly or frequently pinched, scratched, spit on, or had their hand or wrist twisted.
  • Almost 50 percent had been punched at least once; seven respondents report having been strangled in the past two years; eight sexually assaulted and two intentionally stuck with a contaminated needle.
  • The majority of violent acts are committed by patients.
  • There are a variety of items identified for use as weapons by nurses in the survey, including a third who have seen furniture used as a weapon, just under 30 percent have witnessed pencils or pens and medical equipment used. Less common are scissors (11 percent), knives (9 percent) syringes (5 percent) and guns (2 percent).
  • Most nurses continue to work after reporting an incident of violence. Less than 1 percent refused to keep working and less than 2 percent were sent home. Fewer than a quarter were offered relief so that they could stop working if they needed to.
  • The majority said that while management was supportive, nothing was done to solve the problem.
  • Just over half of those reporting said they later had difficulty concentrating on their job. Others report being easily startled, psychological symptoms such as fear, physical symptoms such as headaches, difficulty working in an environment that reminds them of the past incident, and an actual impact on their ability to work due to injuries sustained.
  • Only 20 percent say that they feel their employer is very concerned about their overall safety at work including workplace violence.
    As to solutions to the problem: safe staffing ratios was the number one solution identified by nurses (88 percent); training on legal rights about violence (52 percent); adequate time to assess and intervene to prevent a crisis (51 percent); unit-based protocols addressing violence (51 percent); and policy and procedures addressing violence (48 percent).

According to Rosemary O’Brien, chair of the Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force, “This survey underscores and supports the work of the MNA and our task force to deal with what is clearly a crisis in the working conditions of nurses in Massachusetts. The results also validate the need for passage of legislation to prevent workplace violence and to provide appropriate support for those impacted by this terrible problem. We intend to share these results with policymakers and others who can work with the MNA to better protect the nurses of the commonwealth.”

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