Statistics of violence against nurses over the last decade are shocking. According to NursingWorld.org, approximately one in four nurses have been physically assaulted at work in the last year. Although healthcare workers make up only 9 percent of the workforce, OSHA.gov reports that violent injuries in the healthcare industry account for almost as many violent injuries in all other industries combined.

The worst part is there aren’t currently any federal rules in place to mandate that hospitals and healthcare facilities protect nurses from the violence they might experience in the workplace. However, some states have passed protective regulations on their own, requiring the development of violence-prevention programs, teaching de-escalation techniques, and increasing the penalties for people convicted of assaulting healthcare workers. As violence against nurses continues to increase, the US Department of Labor is considering nationwide workplace-safety standards for hospitals to prevent abuse against their employees.

What has caused the spike in violence? A 2015 research study in the Journal of Emergency Nursing found that dementia or Alzheimer’s patients and patients on drugs are the most likely to hurt nurses. An increase in violence also correlates with the recession a few years ago, which led to public and private hospitals cutting budgets and laying off employees. With fewer nurses and security guards on duty at any given time, there is less help available when a patient gets out of control. Many states also cut billions in funding for mental health services while psychiatric patients are increasingly seeking emergency room treatment because they can’t be turned away at a hospital.

Bonnie Castillo, an RN and director of health and safety for National Nurses United, tells TheAtlantic.com that there’s a pervasive notion that dealing with unruly patients is part of a nurse’s job and therefore, “[Nurses] always feel discouraged from reporting it.” While the Department of Labor works toward establishing nationwide safety standards, individual hospitals are beginning to implement their own measures for ensuring employee safety (like offering self-defense classes to staff). However, while the nationwide nursing shortage persists and hospitals don’t have mandated safety regulations, patients and staff will continue suffering from workplace violence in hospitals.

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