Half of ER nurses report being subjected to violence on the job. Safety in nursing shouldn't be the "norm" and technology is changing expectations.
Nearly 654,000 incidents of injury or illness were reported by US healthcare employers in 2010. That’s over half a million incidents. More importantly, that's 152,000 incidents more than the next most affected industry: manufacturing. Contrary to public expectations, healthcare employees often work in very dangerous environments.
In other verticals, this obvious low level of workplace safety would likely not be tolerated. Yet for the healthcare industry, it is a simple fact of life. For hospitals, some physical violence can be seen as “part of the job.” In the end, safety in nursing and hospitals can end up taking a backseat to getting the job done.
Now, many are fighting to change that. The comprehensive Healthcare Workers Unprotected study found that 45% of all workplace violence incidents that result in lost workdays involve healthcare workers. The sheer volume of disturbing hospital statistics are staggering, and some employees are turning to technology to decrease the risk of violence in hospitals, nursing homes, and residential facilities.
As one study outlines, there are four specific areas where physical violence often happens in the healthcare sector. This is only focused on violence outside of that caused by coworkers or outside perpetrators. When it comes to strictly work-related workplace violence, nurses and other employees have a lot to look out for.
The ER: In some geographical areas, it’s possible that every nurse in the emergency department has been subjected to verbal threats. One study in Florida also found that 82% of their surveyed nurses had been physically assaulted. While there is violence throughout the healthcare sector, studies repeatedly show the Emergency Room to be the most dangerous location. Some explanations for this include the long wait, the level of violence in a hospital’s surrounding community, and, startlingly, the presence of weapons.
Mental health facilities: Workplace safety in state mental health and psychiatric facilities can be complicated. Studies show anywhere from 43 to 73% of health professionals and custodial workers in these areas experiencing violence. Luckily, assault management trainings in recent years are decreasing some risks, though the threat still remains.
Long-term facilities: Some reports show that up to 100% of workers report minor incidents on a daily basis in senior homes and long-care facility. Incidents can range from more minor issues spitting and hair pulling to full-on slapping and scratching. These daily physical assaults have come to be taken as usual for many workplaces.
In the home and community: Following up on clients or providing in-home care can be a nightmare. A nurse's schedule may be full of routine visits and unmemorable appointments, but this setting also leaves them vulnerable to the possibility of more dangerous assaults. This is one of the few industries where “struck by an object” violence is actually a commonly known affliction.
There are a number of non-tangible measures being taken. Education and new rules have been put in place to keep nurses safe. The CDC even offers a Workplace Violence Prevention for Nurses training program online. This includes understanding risk factors in your own workplace, identifying warning signs, and learning how to manage violence. Many have found these trainings helpful, effectively giving nurses skills to respond better to dangerous situations.
While nurses may feel more prepared for averse situations, few studies have comprehensively examined the effectiveness of these programs. Many are calling not just for trainings but also for better infrastructures: proper administrative controls, staffing, and alert systems. That’s why local coalitions are fighting to put new laws in place that would lead to big fines and other real-world changes.
There will continue to be workplace violence that circumvents nurse trainings and occurs despite the legal consequences. Hard-wired tools that stops violence and gets the nurse out of danger immediately support an entirely different avenue of protection. In fact, the only way to reliably increase safety in nursing and hospitals is to make physical, real-world changes.
The bluetooth beacon
One example of technology supporting nurse safety is the Bluetooth beacon or “tag.” These can function as a panic button in order to give the precise location of a nurse at the time of an emergency or inevitable escalation. Here’s how this example works.
How it works: Nurses are supplied with a small tag with a button. This tag uses Bluetooth to communicate with nearby Bluetooth readers to determine their position—whether the nurse is in the waiting area, the ER, or a specific room. When the nurse recognizes a dangerous situation, they can simply press the button on their tag. Now, staff can be immediately alerted that there is a problem along with the specific location. This information can be quickly delivered via app or another predefined method chosen by the hospital and developers.
To make this solution stronger, the button can also be combined with press patterns. For example, while a single tap indicates an upset and aggressive parent, a double tap may indicate a serious threat. This means nurses need not rely solely on their own ability to recognize and deescalate, they can have backup at the ready 24/7.
It will be difficult to create a hospital environment completely free from the possibility of violence, but there are several steps employers and employees can take to put safety first.
The fight to make nursing and healthcare safe is far from over. It will be up to ongoing changes in legislature, expectations, and infrastructure that will transform the playing field going as we move forward.