Many healthcare workers experience violence in the workplace often resulting from violent behavior by their patients, clients and/or residents. What can healthcare organizations do to improve safety and minimize the risk of workplace violence?

In an effort to help healthcare organizations better prevent and address violence in the workplace, The Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in healthcare, released a Sentinel Event Alert outlining the seven steps healthcare organizations should take to prevent workplace violence:

1. Clearly define workplace violence and put systems into place across the organization that enables staff to report workplace violence incidents, including verbal abuse. 2. Recognizing that data comes from several sources, capture, track and trend all reports of workplace violence – including verbal abuse and attempted assaults when no harm occurred. 3. Provide appropriate follow-up and support to victims, witnesses and others affected by workplace violence, including psychological counseling and trauma-informed care if necessary. 4. Review each case of workplace violence to determine contributing factors. Analyze data related to workplace violence and worksite conditions to determine priority situations for intervention. 5. Develop quality improvement initiatives to reduce incidents of workplace violence, including changes to the physical work environment and changes to work practices and administrative procedures. 6. Train all staff, including security, in de-escalation, self-defense and response to emergency codes. 7. Evaluate workplace violence reduction initiatives.

In addition to these seven steps, the Sentinel Event Alert also outlines The Joint Commission’s related standards, references and resources, including those from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). Under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.” According to OSHA, courts have interpreted the General Duty Clause “to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.” In addition, OSHA has published Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers providing specific recommendations to prevent violence in healthcare workplaces.

Accordingly, healthcare organizations that fail to have appropriate measures in place to prevent and respond to workplace violence could jeopardize their accreditation and/or risk receiving an OSHA citation.