By Joe Rosner, Best Defense USA
“Workplace violence? That’s a post office problem, my business is medical equipment and supplies. It can’t happen here.” If only that were true. However, the reality is your team is at risk because they encounter unpredictable situations every time they enter a client’s community and home. Workplace violence can range from verbal abuse, to stalking or threats of assault, to homicide. Recent studies indicate workplace violence is increasing, and becoming more violent when it occurs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 27 out of the 100 fatalities in health care and social service settings that occurred in 2013 were due to assaults and violent acts. Moreover, the vast majority of workplace violence incidents result in non-fatal, yet serious injuries. The BLS notes that between 2011 and 2013, workplace assaults ranged from 23,540 and 25,630 annually, with 70 to 74 percent occurring in health care and social service settings. For health care workers, assaults comprise 10-11 percent of workplace injuries severe enough to miss work.
Some risks are inherent to the job. These include--
- Patients (and relatives of patients) with a history of violence, who are substance abusers, gang members, or have psychiatric issues.
- Working alone in a facility or in patients’ homes.
- Poorly lit corridors, rooms, parking lots and other areas in or near a patient’s residence that may block employees’ vision or interfere with their escape from a violent incident.
- Prevalence of firearms, knives and other weapons among patients and their families and friends.
- Working in neighborhoods with high crime rates.
When asked, many DME/HME managers will say something like, “This is an extremely important issue. But right now we’re overloaded dealing with …” Workplace violence is seen as important but not urgent. But IF the worst happens do you really want to explain to loved ones, shareholders and lawyers, that steps were not taken because it didn’t seem like the risk was high today? Put another way, would you let your child go to a school that did not have fire drills, or fire alarms or fire extinguishers? After all, school fires have become rare and fire fatalities almost non-existent. (BTW: School fire-related injuries and deaths have dropped as a direct result of plans and policies to stop them.)
What can you do to protect your team? You can put plans, policies and procedures between your people and the threat of violence. A workplace violence prevention program can reduce the risk and mitigate harm when violence occurs. Elements of an effective workplace violence prevention program include:
(1) Management Commitment and Employee Participation
(2) Worksite Analysis
(3) Hazard Prevention and Control
(4) Personal Safety Training
(5) Recordkeeping and Program Evaluation
OSHA’s “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers” is a good place to start. But, at every step of the way, keep in mind the two most important factors are real commitment by the whole organization and training on workplace violence prevention and response. Without a commitment from the top down, a workplace violence safety program will have little chance of success. People know lip service when they hear it.
Think of training as a firewall for victimization. Policies can be ignored. Plans can fail. But a well trained professional can always take appropriate steps.
When US Airways Flight 1549 had a catastrophic engine failure, it wasn’t FAA regulations or the airliner’s equipment that saved the lives of all 155 people onboard. It was the training of Capt. Sully Sullenburger.
Joe Rosner will present at VGM Heartland Conference on June 17 from 8:15-9:15 a.m. His presentation is titled “Workplace Violence and Personal Safety for Home Health Professionals.”