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Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Professionals in the healthcare industry suffer a disproportionately high number of violent events and physical injuries in the workplace. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 2016 saw U.S hospitals record 228,200 work-related injuries and illnesses, a rate of 5.9 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees. That’s around twice the rate of private industry as a whole. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have made the situation worse, with some parts of the country seeing violence against health workers increase by a shocking 300%.

In order to prevent violence and improve workplace safety, employers and managers need to take concrete steps to keep their doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers safe. While violent incidents are unlikely to disappear overnight, creating a more secure work environment will help professionals to feel safer and enable them to care for patients to the best of their abilities.

Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Violence in the workplace has long been a problem in healthcare facilities across the country. In fact, in many areas, the issue is so bad it’s now become viewed simply as “part of the job”.

According to a recent study, 70–74% of workplace assaults in the USA occur in healthcare settings. Among staff in nursing homes and residential care facilities, the rate of violent incidents is around 10 times the national average. While those working in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals experience violence at roughly 60 times the rate of the average US workplace.

Types of Workplace Violence in Healthcare

According to the CDC, there are four main types of workplace violence in healthcare. These are criminal intent, client-on-worker violence, worker-on-worker violence, and violence from personal relationships.

Criminal intent

Criminal intent refers to violence that’s committed by someone with no known links to, or relationship with, the healthcare setting or its employees. It could include a nurse being attacked in the parking lot on her way home or a doctor being mugged when conducting a home visit. In general, this type of violence is fairly rare.


This is the most common type of violence experienced by healthcare workers. The client in this context includes the patient, their family members, and their friends. Those most likely to experience this type of violence are emergency department workers and those working in mental health facilities, waiting rooms, and geriatric care.


Violence between co-workers is also known as lateral or horizontal violence. It can include everything from bullying and intimidation to emotional abuse and homicide.

Personal relationship

The violence that comes about as a result of personal relationships can happen in all healthcare settings. An example of this type of violence would be a husband following his nurse wife to work and attacking her on the hospital premises.

Causes of Workplace Violence in Healthcare

The causes of workplace violence in healthcare vary from place to place and incident to incident. As we’ve seen, violent events can fall into four broad categories, with each presenting its own risk factors and triggers.

However, while the exact causes of violence can’t always be identified, policies and programs that target violent behavior can be effective in addressing workplace incidents of violence. For example, the integration of rapid response programs and technologies has the potential to reduce the severity of incidents as they happen, while de-escalation training can be incredibly useful in defusing situations that may arise once a qualified member of staff has arrived.

Various Risk Factors of Workplace Violence in Healthcare

According to OSHA, there are a number of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of violence occurring. These include:

  • Small, cramped waiting rooms
  • Long waiting times
  • Poorly lit corridors
  • Badly designed inpatient and outpatient areas
  • Working alone
  • Working in high-crime areas
  • Lack of emergency communication
  • Working with people who have a history of violence
  • Prevalence of firearms and other weapons

These risk factors primarily relate to client-on-worker violence, the most common type of violence experienced by those working in healthcare organizations.

Tips and Strategies for Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Organizations that want to prevent violence in the workplace should start by addressing the risk factors identified in the OSHA guidelines. Some of the easiest and most effective steps include:

These simple measures can have a big impact on the level of violence experienced by staff members.  Training programs can also have an instant and significant impact on physical assaults and threatening behavior. Implementing an emergency communication system, and signs are displayed throughout the facility notifying patients of them, can also help deter assaults and reduce the frequency of incidents. They act similarly to ADT signs on home windows or doors. An example can be found in our BeWell Case Study. 

Further resources on workplace violence prevention can be found on The Joint Commission website and in the OSHA guidelines.

Do you Need a Workplace Violence Program?

Violence against healthcare workers is always completely unacceptable. Implementing workplace violence prevention programs can help to reduce violence in a number of ways. Programs can provide essential training for healthcare workers and can be used to inform employees and employers about the steps they can take to reduce assaults and minimize risk.

Whether or not your healthcare facility has experienced violence, investing in a program is an important way of boosting security. It also demonstrates to employees that their safety is a top priority, something that can further help to improve the working environment.

Workplace violence in healthcare settings is a growing concern and an important public health issue. To learn more about violence prevention, and how panic buttons can help to keep your employees safe, get in touch with a member of our team today. Request a demo.

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