From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
November/December 2008 Edition
The MNA’s Workplace Violence Task Force recently received the honor of “Best Poster Presentation Award” for its submission—“Legal Interventions for Addressing Workplace Violence in the Health Sector” —at the International Workplace Violence Conference in Holland.
The conference, which was held in Amsterdam in October, focused on the ever-increasing rate of violence against health care workers across the globe.
In the United States, 48 percent of all nonfatal assaults in the workplace are committed by health care patients. Nurses and other personal care workers suffer violent assaults at a rate 12 times higher than other industries. In a 2004 survey of Massachusetts nurses, 50 percent indicated they had been punched at least once in the last two years, and 25-30 percent were regularly pinched, scratched, spit on or had their hand/wrist twisted.
Intentional violence is a crime
Intentional violence (threats to do harm and/or actual physical assaults) against nurses and other staff members, from patients, visitors, family members or others, is considered criminal behavior. Nurses have a civil right to call the police to intervene at the time of the event or can file criminal charges against the assailant either with the local police or the local municipal court after the fact.
In several cases brought to MNA’s attention, patients repeatedly threatened and acted out physically against nurses. When no action was taken by m anagement after this behavior was reported, nurses called the police and the patients were removed from the facilities.
The specific goals of the conference were to:
- Sensitize stakeholders to the issue of workplace violence
- Promote effective policies and strategies to create safe work environments
- Understand the manifestations and the human, professional and economic implications of workplace violence
“Workplace violence in the health sector is progressively gaining attention and recognition as being a global challenge,” added Susan Vickory, an RN, a member of the MNA’s Workplace Violence Task Force, and the person responsible for developing the information for the poster presentation “This occupational health hazard affects workers across all sectors, but it has become a major concern for many different stakeholders in the health care industry.”
“Our poster presentation focused on the specifics of how to hold perpetrators of workplace violence accountable for their crimes against nurses and other health care workers,” added Rosemary O-Brien RN, chairperson Workplace Violence Task Force, and the poster presenter. “In health care or anywhere, violence is a crime. Holding perpetrators accountable is the only way to create a safer environment for workers and, ultimately, for patients.”
The MNA’s poster presentation emphasized, among other things, how the reporting and documentation of violent acts must be part of an organization’s culture. Specifically:
- Violent acts should be part of the public record no matter where they occur
- Reporting must be consistent to bring attention to the problem
- When reporting, prepare and keep records of everything that happens— from crime scene photos to facility incident reports
- Know ahead of time who to call when an act of violence is committed
- File criminal charges
Also attending the conference and assisting in the development of the poster presentation were Terri Arthur, RN, MNA member, and a member of the MNA’s Congress on Health and Safety, and Evie Bain, RN and coordinator of the MNA’s health and safety program.
More than 20 countries were represented at the conference and a total of 43 posters were presented. “This is a great honor for the MNA and for the task force,” said O’Brien. “As we move forward with our work, we will know that we’re not only helping local health care workers but workers from across the globe as well.”