Workplace Violence in Health Care
Over 10,000 UFCW Canada members work in the health care sector.
Most people think of violence in health care as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem.Health care workers interact closely with their patients and their families, often under difficult circumstances.
Patients may act aggressively due to their medical condition or the medication they are taking. They may also have a history of violent behaviour, or feel frustrated and angry as a result of their circumstances.
Taking good care of patients does not mean you have to put up with abusive behaviour. Health workers are at high risk of violence all across Canada and many suffer physical violence and stress in the workplace at some point in their careers. Many more are threatened or exposed to verbal hostility. Most violence is committed by patients and visitors.
Health care workers are more likely to be physically assaulted than the general public by as much as five times. Care givers who are victims of workplace abuse must be given the same consideration as any other victim of violence, as it is not their job to put up with aggressive behaviour from difficult patients.
Workplace violence consists of:
- Threatening behaviour - such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
- Verbal or written threats - any expression of intent to inflict harm.
- Harassment - any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.
- Verbal abuse - swearing, insults or condescending language.
- Physical attacks - hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.
Just how prevalent is violence in the health care sector? It’s difficult to get accurate numbers, given that acts of violence tend to go underreported. Challenges associated with high-needs patients, staffing shortages, organizational culture towards violence, and communication gaps can all contribute to violent incidents.
Violence and harassment in the workplace can have serious physical and mental consequences for workers and their families and lead to absenteeism, lower productivity and increased health care costs.
Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach. Changing the culture that violence should be tolerated as part of the job is essential, as is providing violence prevention training to staff, developing and implementing policies to reduce the likelihood of a violent incident, and ensuring communications tools are in place.
If you are a victim of workplace violence, make sure you report the incident to your supervisor immediately.