Most Nurses Are Victims of Workplace Violence


Nurses, the very people who are charged with providing care and comfort, are often the victims of workplace violence, according to a new study. The report from Australia found that 92 percent of nurses said they had been verbally abused, and more than half had been physically threatened or physically assaulted in the workplace.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “a physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.” Thus violence can include threats, intimidation, harassment, physical assault, and other types of violence, including homicide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that about two million workers in the United States are victims of workplace violence each year.

Researchers from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia, enrolled 113 nurses in a study of workplace violence. The nurses were predominately female, in their early 40s, and had been working in the professional for between six months and 40 years. Most worked part-time, and they provided nursing services in both public and private settings.


Information collected from the nurses revealed that 69 percent had been physically threatened and 52 percent had physically assaulted. On average, the nurses experienced two to 46 incidents of workplace violence per year. Despite these disturbing numbers, only one in six incidents were formally reported. Thirty percent of the nurses did not report workplace violence because they felt it was part of their job, and 50 percent said that when they had reported an event, senior managers did nothing about it.

Of nurses who did report workplace violence, 50 percent said they did so verbally to an immediate manager (29%), senior nursing staff (14.5%), or a friend or colleague (6%). Only 16 percent made official reports. A much higher percentage of nurses (70%), however, said they would report an incident if they or a colleague were injured or there was a chance they would be laying charges or making a compensation claim.

Nurses were most likely to be assaulted in the emergency department or in mental health situations. The lowest incidents were reported by midwives and surgical and pediatric staff. Forty percent of the nurses had been involved in an incident that included a weapon, including hospital equipment (32% of incidents), guns (6%), or knives (3%).

It’s a sad reality that people who serve others, such as health care workers and social service employees, are frequently assaulted by the very people they are trying to help. According to Dr. Rose Chapman, the study’s lead author, these new findings support previous study results showing that 96 percent of nurses had experienced one or more injuries related to workplace violence. “Understanding why nurses do or do not report incidents is very important as it can help educators and administrators to develop programmes that help to reduce workplace violence,” notes Dr. Chapman.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/NIOSH
Chapman R et al. Journal of Clinical Nursing 2010; 19(3-4): 479
Occupational Safety and Health Administration


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