The Role Communication Plays in Workplace Safety for Nurses

Picture of Mary Kate McGrath By Mary Kate McGrath


workplace safety for nursesEven though the healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, reports show that rates of violent workplace incidents are higher for nurses and medical practitioners on average. Communication is critical during incidents and plays a major role in workplace safety for nurses. 

There are currently 3.9 million Resident Nurses, 4 million home care aides, 270,000 Nurse Practictioners and 724,500 LPNs/LVNs in the U.S. and women account for 87% of the overall nursing workforce. Statistics show that nurses endure staggering amounts of physical and verbal abuse, often from the patients they treat.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace violence is four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry. U.S. healthcare workers experience the most nonfatal workplace injuries compared to other professions, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Healthcare and social assistance workers make up only 12.2% of the workforce, but nearly 75% of workplace assaults occur in the healthcare industry. There are four main types of workplace violence against healthcare workers - criminal intent, patient or patient’s family, employee-on-employee, or a personal relationship.

The number of workplace violence incidents has risen over the past decade, which can be due to a variety of factors. These include wait-times, budget cuts resulting in less security staff, states cutting funding for preventative mental health services, psychiatric patients going to emergency rooms for treatment, and staff unsure what constitutes violence. All types of nurses are susceptible to workplace violence, including home care nurses or workers.

There are several main impacts of the nurse safety epidemic. The first is financial - though nursing employment rates are growing faster than any other occupation, there is still a staffing shortage due to workplace violence incidents, among other factors such as an aging workforce and the influx of patients. The American Nurses Association (ANA) predicts more than 1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2022 to fulfill healthcare needs in the U.S. For hospitals and healthcare facilities. The shortage will lead to higher rates of patient dissatisfaction, as well as negative patient outcomes, such as higher readmissions, medication errors, and increased patient mortality.

States Are Taking The Lead To Protect Nurses

No federal law currently requires hospitals and healthcare facilities to implement programs to prevent workplace violence. As a result, various states have passed laws and guidelines to protect nurses and other healthcare personnel. A handful of states require employer run workplace violence programs, while others designate penalties for assaults against nurses or other healthcare workers. 

A few states have passed significant legislation to better care for nurses. In Oregon, assaulting a nurse is considered a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and $125,000 in fines. The state of New York classifies a physical attack against an RN or LPN as a Class D felony, subject to a maximum of seven years in prison. Legislative efforts will also hold organizations accountable for not making the premises and operations safe.

Being prepared ahead of time for “what if” can help organizations protect their nursing personnel and handle workplace violent incidents. But more can be done. According to Rave Mobile Safety’s Emergency Preparedness and Security Trends in Healthcare (Healthcare Survey), 29% of emergency managers and other supervisors said workplace violence was their biggest safety concern, yet only 32% ran drills once a year while 33% never ran drills. 

Investing in emergency preparedness may be expensive, but the damage done to healthcare organizations is more costly. The AHA estimates that U.S. hospitals spend $233 million a year on emergency preparedness training, with approximately $174.6 million of that amount being focused on violence-related issues The average out-of-court settlement for a workplace violence lawsuit is about $500,000, while the average jury award is approximately $3 Million. The cost for hospitals to provide uncompensated or insufficiently compensated care and treatment to victims of violence totaled $852.2 million. In addition, absenteeism related to workplace violence can cost hospitals $53.7 million per year.

Keeping Two-Way Communications Part of the Job

Hospitals and healthcare facilities must maintain continuity of operations while handling numerous challenges. The nature of healthcare facilities makes it particularly challenging to get messages out to their personnel, especially during a public health emergency or a critical event. Mass text messaging (92%), email (91%), and phone tree/voicemail (89%) are the top modes of communication hospitals and healthcare facilities use when they need to reach their personnel about workplace emergencies, including violent incidents. Emergency alerts through mass text messaging is the number-one preferred communication method whether healthcare professionals are working off-site or in the office, the Workplace Survey said.

FREE REPORT: Healthcare Emergency Preparedness and Security Trends

A mass notification system that allows hospitals and healthcare facilities to communicate with all of their personnel, whether they’re on-site, working in the field or traveling to different locations, is vital for continuity of business operations, especially during an emergency. Having a system that enables nursing supervisors, emergency managers, other officials, and their nursing staff to communicate with each other before a workplace violence incident occurs or seconds after is important to ensure everyone’s safety.

geo-poll-healthAn automated polling module, a feature within a mass notification system, can be used to further assist nurses, especially those who travel to care for patients. The polling feature adds an extra layer of protection for traveling nursing personnel, who often work in isolation and may need to resolve issues without immediate help from their employers or coworkers. If an incident occurs and a healthcare organization needs to do a wellness check on traveling staff, it can use an automated poll through SMS text, email and voice to determine where the workers are located and if they are safe. When traveling staff responds to this poll, they can automatically share their real-time location, even if nursing personnel hasn’t downloaded a personal safety app.

Making Safety More Personal

Safety and security for nurses go beyond metal detectors, surveillance cameras, controlled access to certain departments and other workplace emergency exercises.Healthcare organizations and nurses have to be ready for any type of violent incident. Safety managers must look out for their emotional and physical well-being, whether they’re in the office, walking to their car in the parking lot, or on the road traveling. 

Workplace violence incidents in healthcare are compounded because nurses don’t always report incidents, or the extent of a violent incident, to their employers. Many of these workers accept violence as part of the job, believe they didn’t sustain serious injuries, or are afraid of repercussions from supervisors. One solution to this dilemma is using a personal safety app. Many of these workers accept violence as part of the job, and believe they didn’t sustain serious injuries, will be ignored or will get in trouble with supervisors.

A personal safety app would include an emergency call button, as well as the ability for nurses to discreetly submit two-way tips anonymously, such as witnessing a sexual harassment incident. The app also allows nurse personnel to keep in contact with hospital security through a virtual escort. An emergency call button, also known as a distress call button, in an employee safety app can directly connect to an organization’s security staff.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities must maintain daily operations, but these organizations are  also grappling with how best to protect their nurses as they care for more patients, often in highly volatile and unpredictable situations. A mass notification system would enable hospitals and healthcare facilities to quickly and efficiently alert their nursing staff about a violent incident, as well as let them know what actions to take to keep them safe and secure. In addition, a personal safety app would be part of a healthcare organizations’ notification system.

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Mary Kate McGrath

Written by Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.


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