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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Under the Gun: Hospitals must Respond to Violence Against Health Care Workers

Violence against health care workers – particularly nurse assistants and nurses – is increasing at an alarming rate that warrants immediate action.

The Occupational Health Safety Network (OSHN) -- a web-based portal that collects data about injury and incident reports in hospitals and other settings --- reports that from Jan. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2014 workplace violence injury rates increased for all non-physician job classifications and nearly doubled for nurse assistants and nurses.

Given that level of increase, we wondered if some kind of a surveillance artifact could be occurring through increased reporting or other factors. Unfortunately, that is not the case, explained Ahmed Gomaa, MD, ScD, MSPH, a medical officer in the surveillance hazard evaluation branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“This finding is an actual increase representing the data collected from 112 participating facilities located in 19 states,” he says. “A similar workplace violence increase is also documented by a Bureau of Labor Statistics report -- a national survey which showed a 16% increase from 2012 to 2013.”

The OHSN collected data on OSHA-reportable injuries related to violence for the period, finding that the hospitals reported a total of 2,034 incidents. OSHA reported violent injuries were defined as incidents that result in at least one of the following: loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid, a diagnosis by a physician, or death. Incident reports that provided details suggests that virtually all of the injuries resulted from physical assaults by patients.

“Patients at risk for committing violent acts [include] those with mental illness, behavioral disorders, and cognitive dysfunction,” Gomaa says.

As a result of such findings, there has been a surge of activity by a variety of federal agencies and other organizations that reach consensus on one point: The level of violence in health care has become unacceptable.

For more on this story see the June 2015 issue of Hospital Employee Health