Workplace violence happens every day—particularly in healthcare, a highly-regulated industry where overburdened staff are tasked with caring for patients in their most vulnerable state. Why is workplace violence becoming a big concern in the healthcare industry? Hospitals and healthcare settings are places where people go to seek help and recover. Patients and staff entering a healthcare facility should not fear for their lives and safety.
Unfortunately, in the United States alone, there are roughly 2 million victims of workplace violence each year, and the healthcare and social assistance industries have an 8.2% workplace violence incident rate. OSHA defines workplace violence “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It can affect and involve workers, clients, customers, and visitors. Workplace violence ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”
Preventing workplace violence in healthcare requires properly trained healthcare security officers who can identify potential workplace violence and de-escalate situations to keep everyone safe.
The Increasing Prevalence of Workplace Violence in Healthcare
What is true about workplace violence in healthcare is also true about workplace violence in any industry: It’s always been present in some form. However, in recent years, there seems to be an increasing prevalence of it in healthcare. That also means there’s a growing opportunity to improve security at hospitals nationwide.
Workplace violence in healthcare statistics indicate that up to 62% of healthcare workers have experienced workplace violence, most commonly verbal abuse. On the one hand, it could be due to greater awareness of workplace violence against nurses and other staff. Preventing workplace violence in healthcare requires a team approach. The more people understand and can identify workplace violence, the more likely they may be to report it—particularly as healthcare organizations strive to create a safer, more inclusive culture.
There are other reasons why the healthcare industry is vulnerable to workplace violence. One is the fact that hospitals are open to the public 24/7, thus increasing the likelihood that problems could occur. Another is that hospitals are filled with expensive devices, medications, and other items as well as information that can add to the risk of theft and violence.
This includes personal health information as well as financial information. Preventing workplace violence in healthcare means organizations must enact a comprehensive approach that takes workplace violence indicators into consideration.
Legislation to Help Reduce Workplace Violence in Healthcare
The healthcare industry continues to explore various ways to prevent workplace violence. The good news is that recent legislation may help prevent workplace violence in healthcare. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1195, Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, on April 16, 2021.
The legislation, if passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Biden, would mandate healthcare employers to implement a plan that protects workers from workplace violence in accordance with the national standard provided by OSHA. This change can go a long way in terms of preventing workplace violence in healthcare.
Workplaces that have a healthcare professional would have to follow H.R. 1195 and implement a plan for worker safety such as:
- Staff workplace violence training
- Investigate violent occurrences
- Implement risk assessment and a workplace violence prevention plan
Workplaces would have to maintain a record of five years. With these changes, prevention of workplace violence in healthcare may be easier to achieve.
The Role of Healthcare Security Officers in Preventing Workplace Violence
What specific actions can a medical security guard take to prevent workplace violence and ensure the safety of healthcare workers, patients, and visitors? Medical security guards not only intervene when there’s a need for physical restraint or de-escalation. They also protect property, control public visitation and the perimeter, filter access control, and much more.
When it comes to leveraging trained medical security guards for preventing workplace violence in healthcare, professionalism is paramount. When patients, staff, and others see and feel the presence of professional security guards, they’re less likely to engage in disruptive or aggressive behavior.
How can healthcare organizations promote professionalism? One way is to require medical security guards to wear branded uniforms. Another is focus on workplace violence training for security officers so they can provide services at more than one location. This includes de-escalation training to promote situational awareness and mitigate the threats of workplace violence.
Workplace Violence Training for Healthcare Security Officers
One of the most effective ways to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings is to provide adequate healthcare security training to security officers in hospitals. There are two major types of healthcare security training—situational awareness and de-escalation. Together, these workplace violence prevention trainings give security officers the insight needed to understand when a situation could be potentially dangerous as well as the tools to immediately address it before it spirals out of control.
Situational Awareness Training
Situational awareness training prepares security officers in hospitals by empowering them to identify the warning signs of a potentially violent situation. For example, a violent situation may be imminent when someone:
- Boasts of prior violence
- Breathes heavily
- Has a flushed face
- Laughs nervously or inappropriately
- Makes fists
- Points fingers at someone
- Slurs their speech
- Stands toe to toe
- Violates someone else’s personal space
Situational awareness is critical. Imagine a patient bending over a desk to yell loudly at a registration staff member and demand to be seen immediately. Or a belligerent patient who enters the emergency department and starts making comments to other patients. Both scenarios should demand a security guard’s attention based on the situational awareness training they’ve received on reducing workplace violence.
Situational awareness training also reminds security guards to take proactive steps to reduce workplace violence such as:
- Preventing bottlenecks in ambulance bays
- Monitoring suspicious dwelling and loitering
- Mitigating theft and crime risks
- Tracking high-risk patients
- Staying attuned to illumination changes
- Preventing crowding in waiting rooms
- Controlling pedestrian and vehicular traffic flows
- Proactively maintaining and cleaning facilities
Situational awareness training helps security guards identify potentially problematic scenarios. The next step is to mitigate risk through de-escalation. De-escalation is a technique security guards use to stabilize, slow, or reduce the intensity of a potentially violent situation without using physical force or with a reduction in force.
The key to workplace violence in healthcare prevention is the omission of physical force. As soon as physical violence or force occurs, the safety of staff and patients is compromised. Security guards can use de-escalation to defuse potentially violent situations. In some cases, this highly effective technique can make the difference between a relatively peaceful conflict and an eruption of violence.
What workplace violence prevention and de-escalation strategies can security officers use? Consider the following:
- Allow time for reflection before responding
- Ask to take notes
- Give options, an idea, or a solution
- Maintain eye contact
- Reiterate that you hear the individual
- Speak slowly
- Use the person’s name
Reducing Violence in Healthcare Starts with Proper Guard Training
For decades, workplace violence has been a recognized hazard in the healthcare industry. The issue is difficult to mitigate given the volatility and openness of the healthcare environment. However, training medical security guards in both situational awareness and de-escalation is a good first step.
With the right workplace violence prevention training, security guards can learn how to reduce workplace violence once and for all. They can also offer better protection to healthcare workers, patients, and others in the unfortunate event that workplace violence occurs.
Remember: Preventing workplace violence in healthcare is possible, and the right tools can help you do it. Learn more about combatting workplace violence with the help of the leading TrackTik solution, purpose-built for healthcare settings.