In healthcare settings, preventing workplace violence is essential for ensuring the safety and well-being of healthcare employees and patients. 

Healthcare workers face unique challenges that can put them at risk of experiencing violence on the job, including dealing with patients under stress, working long hours, and encountering individuals with mental health issues or substance abuse problems. 

Incidents of workplace violence, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault, are unfortunately common in healthcare settings. According to Work Safe BC, the workers' compensation insurance counted 2,868 accepted workplace violence claims in 2022, 25 percent more than the 2,292 accepted in 2018.

This remarkable increase in violence against healthcare professionals poses a severe threat to the ideal delivery of health services. Due to this reason,  it becomes essential to understand how to prevent workplace violence in healthcare. 

This article will highlight the various forms of workplace violence that healthcare workers encounter and examine the impact it can have on their physical and emotional health, as well as on patient care and organizational morale. 

By exploring the scope and consequences of workplace violence in healthcare, we can understand the need for proactive prevention measures.

We will also provide preventive strategies to help employees and patients deal with workplace violence in the healthcare arena. 

By prioritizing prevention and addressing the root causes of violence, we can ensure that healthcare settings remain safe to provide high-quality care to patients.

Definition of Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Workplace violence in healthcare refers to any incident where a healthcare worker is abused, threatened, or assaulted while on duty. 

It includes a wide range of behaviors, including physical assault, verbal abuse, threats, harassment, and intimidation directed toward healthcare staff by patients, visitors, or even coworkers. 

This type of violence can occur in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, nursing homes, and mental health facilities.

The definition of workplace violence in healthcare extends beyond physical harm. It includes psychological harm caused by bullying, verbal aggression, or emotional abuse. 

It also includes incidents where healthcare workers feel unsafe due to the presence of weapons or aggressive behavior.

Examples of workplace violence in healthcare include

  1. Physical assaults by patients or visitors, such as hitting, kicking, or biting healthcare staff.

  2. Verbal abuse from patients or family members, including shouting, swearing, or making threats.

  3. Intimidation or harassment by coworkers or supervisors may create a hostile work environment.

  4. Threats of violence or harm, either explicit or implicit, towards healthcare workers.

  5. Property damage, such as vandalizing hospital equipment or facilities during a violent incident.

It's essential to recognize that workplace violence in healthcare can have severe consequences for both individual healthcare workers and the broader healthcare system. 

It can lead to physical injuries, psychological trauma, decreased job satisfaction, burnout, and high turnover rates among healthcare staff. 

Moreover, workplace violence can compromise patient safety and quality of care by disrupting healthcare services and undermining trust between patients and providers. 

Therefore, addressing and preventing workplace violence in healthcare is crucial to ensuring the safety and well-being of healthcare workers and patients alike.

Statistics of Workplace Violence in Healthcare

In Canada, workplace violence in healthcare is a significant issue that affects healthcare workers across the country. According to statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), healthcare workers experience a disproportionately high rate of violence compared to workers in other sectors.

A report by the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) found that between 2013 and 2017, there were over 11,000 incidents of workplace violence reported by nurses in Ontario alone. This included physical assaults, verbal abuse, threats, and harassment.

Similarly, a study published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research revealed that 61% of nurses in Canada reported experiencing at least one incident of workplace violence in the past year. The study also found that nurses working in emergency departments, psychiatric units, and long-term care facilities were at the highest risk of experiencing violence.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) found that 61% of nurses reported feeling unsafe at work due to the risk of violence. This sentiment was particularly prevalent among nurses working in mental health, emergency, and forensic units.

It's important to note that workplace violence in healthcare is not limited to nurses. Other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, paramedics, social workers, and support staff, also face significant risks of violence in their workplaces.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for measures to prevent and address workplace violence in healthcare settings across Canada. 

Employers, policymakers, and healthcare organizations must prioritize the safety and well-being of healthcare workers by implementing effective strategies to prevent violence, provide training and support, and create a culture of respect and safety in healthcare environments.

5 Strategies for Prevention of Workplace Violence


In the face of rising incidents of workplace violence in healthcare, effective prevention strategies are crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of healthcare workers. These strategies focus on various aspects, from education and training to facility design and staff support.

  1. Education and training programs

  2. Improved facility design and security measures

  3. Staff support and well-being

  4. Reporting and response protocols

  5. Familiarizing with relevant laws and regulations

Workplace violence prevention strategies aim to mitigate risks and create safer environments for healthcare workers. 

By implementing proactive measures, organizations can reduce the likelihood of violent incidents and better protect their staff.

1. Education and Training Programs


Education and training programs equip healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to prevent and respond to workplace violence. Here's how they contribute to a safer work environment:

Identification of Risk Factors

Training programs educate staff about the various risk factors and warning signs associated with workplace violence, enabling them to recognize potential threats early on.

De-escalation Techniques

Provide training on effective de-escalation techniques to help healthcare workers defuse tense situations and manage aggressive behavior from patients or visitors.

Teach staff how to communicate effectively, maintain calm, and establish rapport with distressed individuals.

Crisis Management

Offer guidance on crisis management strategies, including responding to emergencies and prioritizing safety in high-stress situations.

Conduct drills and simulations to practice emergency response protocols and ensure staff readiness.

Personal Safety Measures

Educate healthcare professionals about personal safety measures, such as maintaining situational awareness, setting boundaries, and utilizing self-defense when necessary.

Emphasize the importance of self-care and stress management to mitigate the impact of workplace violence on mental and emotional well-being.

Canada Safety Training offers comprehensive Workplace Violence Awareness Training that can help healthcare employees and patients prevent such accidents in the future. 

Role-Specific Training

Tailor training programs address different healthcare roles' unique needs and responsibilities, including nurses, physicians, security personnel, and administrative staff.

Provide role-specific guidance on recognizing, reporting, and responding to incidents of workplace violence.

Continuous Learning and Updates

Foster a culture of continuous learning by offering regular training sessions and updates on best practices for preventing workplace violence.

Stay informed about emerging threats, industry trends, and relevant research findings to adapt training programs accordingly.

By investing in comprehensive education and training initiatives, healthcare organizations can empower their workforce to effectively mitigate workplace violence risks and promote a safe and respectful culture.

2. Improved Facility Design and Security Measures


Enhancing facility design and implementing robust security measures are essential to preventing workplace violence in healthcare settings. 

Here's how these measures contribute to a safer work environment:

Access Control

Implement access control measures, such as restricted entry points and visitor screening protocols, to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering sensitive areas of the facility.

Surveillance Systems

Install surveillance cameras and alarm systems in critical areas to monitor activities and deter potential perpetrators from engaging in violent behavior.

Ensure adequate coverage of public areas, waiting rooms, corridors, and parking lots to enhance security and provide evidence in case of incidents.

Physical Barriers

Install physical barriers, such as locked doors, security gates, and panic buttons, to create barriers between staff, patients, or visitors in volatile situations.

Design reception areas and workstations with protective barriers or screens to minimize the risk of physical assaults.

Emergency Response Infrastructure

Establish clear emergency response protocols and designate safe areas or lockdown procedures to protect staff and patients during active threat situations.

Provide training on emergency evacuation procedures and coordinate with local law enforcement agencies to ensure a swift and effective response to security incidents.

Collaboration with Security Personnel

Collaborate with security personnel or external security providers to conduct risk assessments, develop security plans, and implement preventive measures tailored to the healthcare environment.

Ensure security staff receive specialized training on de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention, and conflict resolution to manage security threats effectively.

Environmental Considerations

Design healthcare facilities considering environmental factors that may contribute to workplace violence, such as adequate lighting, visibility, and signage to promote safety and security.

By addressing facility design and security measures, healthcare organizations can create a physical environment that minimizes the risk of workplace violence and fosters a safety culture for all stakeholders.

3. Staff Support and Well-being


Supporting the well-being of healthcare staff is crucial for preventing workplace violence and promoting a positive work environment. 

Here are key strategies to enhance staff support and well-being:

Psychological Support Services

Provide access to counseling services, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and mental health resources to support staff members who may experience psychological distress or trauma as a result of workplace violence incidents.

Training on Stress Management

Offer training programs on stress management, resilience building, and coping strategies to help healthcare professionals manage job-related stressors and maintain emotional well-being.

Peer Support Networks

Establish peer support networks or support groups where staff members can connect with colleagues who have experienced similar challenges and share experiences, advice, and emotional support in a confidential setting.

Work-Life Balance Initiatives

Promote work-life balance by implementing flexible scheduling options, providing opportunities for rest breaks and time off, and offering support for childcare or eldercare responsibilities to help staff effectively manage personal and professional demands.

Recognition and Appreciation

Recognize and appreciate the contributions of healthcare staff through employee recognition programs, rewards, and expressions of gratitude to foster a positive work culture and enhance morale.

Leadership Support and Communication

Encourage open communication between management and staff, and ensure leaders are approachable and responsive to staff concerns and feedback regarding workplace safety and well-being.

4. Reporting and Response Protocols


Establishing transparent reporting and response protocols is essential for effectively addressing workplace violence incidents in healthcare settings. Here are crucial elements of robust reporting and response protocols:

Incident Reporting Procedures

Implement standardized procedures for reporting workplace violence incidents, including clear guidelines on what constitutes a reportable incident, how to document incidents, and whom to report incidents to within the organization.

Timely Reporting Requirements

Emphasize the importance of timely reporting of workplace violence incidents to ensure appropriate measures can be taken promptly to address the situation and prevent future incidents.

Confidentiality and Privacy Protections

Ensure that reporting mechanisms prioritize confidentiality and privacy protections for individuals who report incidents of workplace violence, including options for anonymous reporting if desired.

Response and Investigation Framework

Develop a structured framework for responding to reported incidents, including procedures for conducting thorough investigations, assessing risk factors, and implementing corrective actions or interventions to mitigate risks.

Supportive Measures for Victims

Provide support and assistance to victims of workplace violence, including access to medical care, psychological support services, and accommodations to ensure their safety and well-being.

Training on Reporting Protocols

Provide comprehensive training to healthcare staff on reporting protocols, emphasizing the importance of reporting incidents promptly and accurately and their rights and protections under-reporting policies.

By implementing robust reporting and response protocols, healthcare organizations can effectively identify, address, and prevent workplace violence incidents, fostering a safe and supportive environment for staff and patients.

5. Familiarizing with Relevant Laws and Regulations


Understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations about workplace violence is essential for healthcare organizations to ensure legal and ethical practices. 

Here's why familiarity with laws and regulations is crucial:

Legal Obligations

Healthcare organizations have legal obligations to protect their employees from workplace violence under occupational health and safety legislation, labor laws, and human rights regulations.

Duty of Care

Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment for their employees, which includes taking reasonable steps to prevent workplace violence and harassment.

Legal Liabilities

Failure to comply with laws and regulations related to workplace violence prevention can result in legal liabilities, including fines, penalties, lawsuits, and damage to the organization's reputation.

Risk Management

Familiarity with legal requirements enables healthcare organizations to effectively identify, assess, and manage risks related to workplace violence, reducing the likelihood of legal disputes and liability claims.

Employee Rights

Understanding relevant laws and regulations empowers employees to assert their rights and protections in workplace violence, including the right to a safe work environment and legal recourse against perpetrators.

Compliance Training

Provide comprehensive training to healthcare personnel on relevant laws, regulations, and organizational policies related to workplace violence prevention, ensuring awareness and compliance at all levels of the organization.

By familiarizing themselves with relevant laws and regulations, healthcare organizations can proactively address workplace violence risks, protect employee rights, and uphold legal and ethical standards.

Final Words

Addressing how to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings is essential for protecting healthcare professionals' well-being and ensuring quality patient care. 

By understanding the different types of workplace violence, implementing preventive strategies, and adhering to relevant laws and regulations, healthcare organizations can create safe and supportive environments for their staff and patients.

Implementing education and training programs provides healthcare workers with the knowledge and skills to recognize, prevent, and respond to incidents of violence effectively. 

Establishing transparent reporting and response protocols ensures that incidents of workplace violence are promptly addressed, victims are provided with appropriate support and assistance, and corrective measures are implemented to mitigate future risks. 

Additionally, familiarity with relevant laws and regulations enables healthcare organizations to uphold legal and ethical standards, protect employee rights, and mitigate legal liabilities.

By adopting a comprehensive approach to preventing workplace violence, healthcare organizations can create a safety culture where employees feel empowered to report incidents without fear of retaliation and receive the support they need. 

Healthcare professionals, employers, regulatory bodies, and policymakers are crucial in preventing and addressing workplace violence, ultimately contributing to safer healthcare environments for all!