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Workplace Violence: How to Seek a Safe Environment for Nursing Jobs

Workplace violence in nursing is a critical issue, and the processes employers have in place to mitigate such actions are worth considering before choosing a nursing job.
Written on 7/25/17

Workplace violence in nursing is a critical issue, and the processes employers have in place to mitigate such actions are worth considering before choosing a nursing job.

The concept of workplace violence covers acts including:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats of violence
  • Physical assault
  • Aggressive/antisocial behaviour
  • Damage or theft of property

Abusive behaviour can severely undermine workplace morale if left unchecked, and more serious incidents can result in physical injury.

Whether nursing staff are working in a hospital, GP practice or out in the community, employers have a duty to protect them from these incidents.

This article provides insight into the types of preventative measures candidates should be aware of when looking for jobs in nursing.

How common is workplace violence in nursing?

Thankfully, there has been an overall improvement in safety of NHS staff at work in recent years. The number of violent incidents recorded fell during 2015, following a steady four-year rise.

According to the latest analysis, a total of 70,555 violent incidents were recorded against NHS staff between 2015 and 2016.

Physical violence against nurses is rare: in 2015–2016, approximately 0.05% of nurses (53 in every 1,000) were affected in this way.

Averaged out over the past five years, approximately 43,000 violent incidents took place in mental health units each year, while around 16,000 happened in acute wards.

What measures should NHS staff look for when applying for jobs in nursing?

NHS employers have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect nurses' health, safety and wellbeing while at work.

A variety of basic measures should be in place to assess and reduce the risk of violence. Many NHS employers are now going further and trialling new initiatives designed to reduce workplace violence, which may go some way towards explaining the recent fall in the total number of incidents.

Mandatory measures

The NHS body under consideration should carry out regular, comprehensive risk assessments to help prevent workplace violence.

Evidence for preventative action taken on the basis of risk assessment might include:

  • Additional signage
  • Alarm systems
  • Training initiatives
  • Adapted workplace layout

Conflict management procedures and an effective, transparent escalation process should also be in place in case preventative measures prove insufficient.

It is important to remember that nurses cannot be disciplined or dismissed for leaving a workplace believed to pose a "serious and imminent" risk of violence. Also, some nursing staff may be entitled to NHS injury benefits/allowances in the event of an incident taking place.

All this should be outlined in an approved policy document.

Trial initiatives

A number of initiatives have recently been introduced to improve safety in NHS hospitals.

While these measures are still being rolled out, adoption or awareness of these initiatives provides a strong indication that the employer places strong onus on workplace safety.

These are two such measures:

1) Police

A three-officer police team has been established to monitor A&E departments at four major hospitals in London, including:

  • The Royal Free
  • Whittington
  • UCL
  • Great Ormond Street

This team is in place to protect nurses from assault, remove volatile patients who refuse to leave and attend community events designed to help raise awareness of the effects of violence in the NHS.

Though many urban hospitals have had a dedicated police liaison office for some time, this is the first instance of a dedicated team being established to provide this sort of protection.

2) Bodycams

A successful pilot scheme involving bodycams has just been trialled at Berrywood Hospital, Northamptonshire.

More than 40 staff were issued with bodycams, which could be set to record in the event of a violent incident. As well as acting as a deterrent, footage was saved for 31 days in case needed for review or patient debriefing.

105 violent incidents and emergency restraints were recorded during the trial period (December–March), compared to 122 during the same period in the previous year, representing a drop of 14%.

If this method were rolled out across all NHS services with the same success rates, approximately 10,000 violent incidents could be avoided each year. This is something NHS staff involved in the trial are keen to see in the near future.

Workplace violence in nursing is unacceptable, as it is in any other profession. To minimise the risk of being subjected to a violent incident, candidates looking for jobs in nursing should assess what preventative measures are in place when choosing a new workplace.