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On November 21, the US House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence (WPV) Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Act of 2019 (the bill now moves to the Senate). Strongly supported by the Emergency Nurses Association, the bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

In the U.S., the prevalence of workplace violence (WPV) in the healthcare industry is four times higher than in other private industries. According to surveys by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), some 70 percent of emergency department (ED) nurses have been hit or kicked while at work. Because of ease of public access, crowding, long wait times, presence of weapons, and other factors, the emergency department is a highly vulnerable area, especially where triage occurs.

ED Health Providers Literally on the “Front Lines” for WPV

The shocking statistics on WPV in emergency departments are behind ACEP and ENA’s campaign, “No Silence on ED Violence.” This joint effort aims to educate, empower and protect doctors and nurses working in emergency departments. By raising awareness of the serious WPV dangers emergency health providers face every day, and promoting action among stakeholders and policymakers, the campaign seeks to ensure a violence-free workplace for emergency nurses and physicians.

Acts of workplace violence (WPV) can cause physical and/or psychological harm to emergency nurses. WPV can lead to job dissatisfaction, emotional exhaustion, burnout, secondary trauma stress, PTSD, absenteeism, and intentions to leave the job or nursing profession, all of which have potential impacts on patient care.

Workplace Violence Affects Majority of ED Doctors and Nurses
Workplace Violence in the ED: serious incidents of WPV are 4 times more common for healthcare workers than for any other workers in the US.
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ACEP President William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, said, “If you asked the majority of our nurses and our physicians, they have all been impacted directly by violence—as have I. It goes everywhere from verbal violence, which happens frequently, to physical violence. Ultimately, we hope that in sharing our stories we will gain insight and share resources on how to prevent future harm to our medical teams and our patients.”

The “No Silence on ED Violence” website includes a variety of workplace violence resources for emergency healthcare providers, including guidelines for safety in and around the Emergency Department, and lists of warning signs indicative of potential violent events.

Inspired by the Raise Your Hand movement—which first encouraged emergency nurses in 2018 to share their workplace violence experiences — ACEP and ENA have collaborated on this effort to minimize the frequency of attacks, protect emergency department professionals and build a new level of awareness about this crisis.

Some Tips on Staying Safe

To increase program effectiveness, it is recommended that a workplace violence prevention program include education and training; formal incident reporting procedures; and administrative, environmental and consumer risk assessment, physical design, and security components to address all types of WPV.

13-Point Approach to Dealing with a Potentially Violent Individual
  • Trust your feelings if you feel uncomfortable around a patient.
  • Be vigilant.
  • Don’t isolate yourself.
  • Have security around.
  • Call security when you first become aware of a threat.
  • Maintain safe distance.
  • Keep an open path for potential exit.
  • Present a calm, caring attitude.
  • Don’t match the threats.
  • Don’t give orders.
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings.
  • Avoid any behavior that may be interpreted as aggressive.
  • Limit eye contact.

Further, if you do become a victim of workplace violence, report it! Underreporting is a documented barrier to effective identification and mitigation of workplace violence. Although many nurses do report WPV incidents using both informal (e.g., telling a supervisor or colleague) and formal channels, the latter is only likely when an injury is sustained. Organizational commitment including workplace policies such as zero tolerance and the role of nursing leadership for establishing a just culture that discourages bullying and retaliation—is essential to mitigating all types and forms of WPV in emergency nursing and other healthcare environments.

Passed in the House, Now Advocate for the Bill With Your Senator

Among other features, the “Advocacy” page on StopEDViolence.org focuses on S. 851, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. Resources include an easy form for writing your Senator to support the act. In its current form, S.851 will require health care and social service employers to develop and implement comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans. These plans must include procedures to identify and respond to the common risks that make health care settings so vulnerable to WPV incidents. In addition, the bill is designed to help ensure that employees are appropriately trained in mitigating dangerous situations. For examples of action taken in State legislatures, see this PDF.

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Koren Thomas

Koren Thomas is an associate editor of DailyNurse.com.
Koren Thomas
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