Workplace Violence in Healthcare


Workplace violence can take many forms. The 2018 murders in Scottsdale are a clear and terrible example of this. Forensic psychiatrist Steven Pitt was targeted by someone holding a grudge for 9 years. The perpetrator went on to kill 5 more people and this happened to our neighbor at the former office headquarters of NHS Solutions. The 2015 murder of a Boston cardiologist sent shock waves through the medical world. The killer apparently blamed the doctor for his mother’s death even though the rest of the family understood this was not the case. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 75% of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults reported annually occur in healthcare or social service settings. That number may seem staggering but is grossly low due to the fact that only about 30% of nurses report violent incidents. The American Nurses Association has made a strong call to #endnurseabuse and get the message out that, ‘”personal boundary violation is not part of our job description.” The threat of violence at work has cities like Washington DC rolling out a panic button mobile app that will put the approximately 35000 government employees in contact with local law enforcement with a simple tap.

OSHA has defined Workplace violence as, “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.” WPV has become a growing concern for employers and their staff.

OSHA’s 4 categories of WPV:

  • Worker on Worker: 2 people are violent towards each other either physically, emotionally or verbally. Often supervisor to supervisee.
  • Personal Relationship: when an employees’ personal relationship is brought into the work environment and causes disruption for that staffer, co-worker, patients or clients. Often these victims are women.
  • Client/Employee: between a patient/client and a staff member. Can go in either direction.
  • Criminal Intent: when there is no relationship between the offender of the violent act and the setting or staff member.

There are 3 levels of escalating magnitude within each category. They begin with bullying, rudeness, or uncooperative behavior. This can move to verbalizing threats or intent to harm, frequent arguing, refusal to follow standards and portraying self as a victim. The third level includes actual threats to harm self or others by physical means or weapons, extreme anger or destruction of property.

Minimize your risk for WPV

There are strategies to minimize risk. Evaluate hazards, identify risk factors and always remain aware of individual personal safety. Assessing the workplace, implementing prevention procedures, and  being in tune with your location, the time of day, being alone or isolated, lighting, awareness of your patients’ history or personality, alcohol or drug use/abuse or money changing hands will reduce opportunities for WPV. Be smart!

Improve Reporting

“If you don’t have any data, there simply is no problem! The data are your evidence,” said Judy Arnetz, PhD in a WPV Prevention webinar sponsored by OSHA and the Joint Commission. Healthcare Managers and facilities have a responsibility to provide a safe, secure, professional work environment. The very best protection you can offer your staff is a zero-tolerance policy toward WPV against or by your staff. Safe reporting procedures, immediate investigations and remedies all communicate a uniform environment where there is no ambivalence regarding acceptable behavior. OSHA’s Safety and Health Management Program Guidelines is one source for information and it also offers other publications, guidelines, technical assistance and compliance tools at

NHS Solutions is committed to a violence-free work environment. We encourage reporting of any incident and take immediate action to rectify it. Our interim nurse leaders can expect our full support. Contact us to discuss your next career move with an organization that offers an individualized approach to each unique interim candidate and client partnership.

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