Attacks as severe as these ones are, thankfully, rare. But the incidence of assaults on nurses and other health-care workers – everything from spitting to hitting – are far too common. In fact, according to new research from the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, violence against health-care workers is a “daily” occurrence.
And, apparently, few are immune from the threat of it. The unions found that all but one of 54 workers interviewed for the study had directly experienced violence at work.
These numbers are disturbing, but not surprising. They are backed up by years of research into violence directed at health-care workers. What is surprising is that the unions say the attacks are “unacknowledged, dismissed, or tolerated by administrators and regulators.”
Such an attitude is unacceptable. For too long managers of health-care facilities have known about the threats against their employees, but little has been done to protect them. Precautions must be taken immediately, or sooner or later someone is going to get killed on the job by a patient or visitor.
Indeed, health-care workers already have the second highest number of reported injuries in the province, according to statistics from the province’s workers’ compensation board.
Other studies underscore the increasing risk of a violent attack on workers at Toronto’s health-care facilities. For example, violent incidents in the University Health Network doubled to 331 from 166 between 2012 and 2014. Reports of abuse against staff by patients and visitors jumped to 320 in 2013 from 140 in 2012 at Sunnybrook Hospital. And there were 453 physical assaults or abuse of health care workers at CAMH in one recent year.
“In no other occupation or walk of life would such abuse be tolerated,” notes union leader Michael Hurley.
Why are things getting worse? Workers surveyed for the new research said underfunding and understaffing are “significant contributors” to workplace violence.
As a result, the unions recommend that the ministry of labour audit all of Ontario’s health-care facilities to make sure effective protections are in place; ensure that workplaces have safeguards such as personal monitors, alarms and identification of violent patients; and ensure adequate staffing levels and the presence of trained security personnel where needed.
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn should act quickly on these recommendations. Then he should work on changing attitudes among managers so that violence against health-care workers is never considered acceptable.