Workplace Violence: Three Ways to Improve Hospital Employees’ Safety

Vizient Accreditation Advisor
ICAHN Preferred Partner

I have been in the workforce since I was 14 years old and unfortunately have seen workplace violence in every aspect of my professional life; as a volunteer first aid squad member, law enforcement officer, volunteer firefighter, and healthcare team member.

Each day we hear tragic stories about violent acts in the workplace. Statistics show that healthcare workers are at an increased risk for violence and that this has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization found in February 2022 that as many as 38% of healthcare workers around the world suffered physical violence at some point during their careers.

It is time to be blunt when it comes to addressing workplace violence. Every employee has the right to go to work and be safe.

We see hospitals and health systems working to address workplace safety through proactively engaging with law enforcement agencies, implementing more stringent security assessments and evaluating the safety of the physical environment.

Senior leadership engagement and commitment are critical to any improvement in the prevention and reduction of workplace violence. Senior leaders that acknowledge workplace violence exists and proactively work to prevent and respond to workplace violence incidents by establishing an organizational safety culture that promotes/demands a safe workplace for all. A culture where workplace safety is the expectation and leadership provides unconditional support for preventing and responding to acts of workplace violence should be communicated to employees.

Here are three proven strategies to improve workplace safety:

Establish a threat assessment team to proactively assess potential workplace violence threats to prevent incidents of workplace violence. I cannot stress enough the importance of a robust threat assessment team. I have spent 32 years working in healthcare with organizations that have multidisciplinary threat assessment teams consisting of employees, leaders, human resources, safety, security and the local police. These teams must have a high degree of confidentiality and commitment in order to sort out the emotional aspects of workplace violence and make assessments based on the facts. These teams proactively prevented potential acts of violence in the workplace, provided needed support to employees, and changed the culture from a reactive to a proactive response to workplace violence.

Train employees to recognize and report warning signs to prevent incidents of workplace violence. Training is the most important aspect of a successful workplace violence prevention and response program. The ability to do the following is very important:

  • Recognize warning signs
  • Confidential reporting
  • No repercussions for reporting
  • De-escalation training
  • How to respond to acts of violence up to and including Active Threat - Active Shooter

We know that training will help prevent incidences of workplace violence and if violence does occur, the trained person responds more effectively than the untrained employee.

Design a “zero incident” initiative versus a zero tolerance approach. You cannot measure or improve zero tolerance. There is no way to measure improvement in workplace violence incidents. Zero tolerance policies cannot fully assess the cause. Zero Tolerance usually results in immediate termination, often resulting in additional potential threats of violence without collecting any information or providing support mechanisms for those involved. It puts out the fire but does not address the root causes of what occurred. Valuable information and intelligence are lost.

By creating a zero incident approach, we can set clearly defined goals to reduce workplace violence and collect data on occurrences that can be analyzed and be the basis of comprehensive workplace violence policies and procedures.

In a previous role, a successful zero incident approach helped avert a potential catastrophe. A security officer was attacked by her husband with a firearm. She was able to escape, and he was later apprehended by police. She came to work and did not report the incident until he called her from jail threatening her. The threat team was assembled and in within 30 minutes we had the resources to protect her and her children, law enforcement presence on was campus increased, a security alert initiated, contact was made with the prosecutor and was able to keep him in custody for several additional hours surveillance was put into place, etc.

In addition, new and revised workplace violence prevention standards went into effect in January for Joint Commission-accredited hospitals and critical access hospitals requiring more education, better training, and conducted more often.  Improved data collection for more thorough monitoring and an organization-wide commitment to a culture of safety have also been incorporated into these new JC standards.  Learn more about the issue and new standards in Vizient’s three-part Knowledge on the Go podcast series.

At the federal level, Vizient continues to support measures that promote the well-being and safety of healthcare providers. As such, Vizient endorsed the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act, which would take necessary steps to deter healthcare workplace violence by increasing penalties for individuals who commit acts of intimidation or physical violence that interfere with the ability of hospital staff to perform their vital work. The legislation also provides hospitals with additional federal grant resources to support workforce safety and security.

There are many resources available to prevent workplace violence and leaders must take action to ensure employees are as safe as possible. To learn more about Vizient’s accreditation resources and how to evaluate your workplace violence program feel free to reach out to me.

About the Author: Joe Bellino, MS, CHPA, CHEM is a Regulatory/Accreditation Facilities consultant at Vizient Inc. Joe has over 32 years of experience managing the physical environment which includes 29 years of hospital safety, emergency management and facility operations. His experience also includes local and federal Law Enforcement, Adjunct Professor at the American Intercontinental University Houston, volunteer firefighter, and former TJC surveyor. Joe is a certified healthcare protection administrator (CHPA) and certified healthcare environmental manager (CHEM). Joe is also a veteran who proudly served in the United States Air Force.