Workplace Violence: Is it Just Part of a Nurses Job?

Some Texas nurses are turning to lawmakers for help to create and enforce new rules. Learn what's being done to protect nurses. Nurses Headlines News

Workplace Violence: Is it Just Part of a Nurses Job?

Nurses in Texas are turning to lawmakers for relief from workplace violence. Kimberly Curtin, remembers being punched in the head as a young nurse in the ER. Not only was the event terrifying, but what a fellow nurse said to her may have been worse, when they simply stated, “Welcome to ER.”

Is this the truth of nursing? Have we just gotten to the point that violence at the hand of patients is expected and even tolerated?

Nurses in Texas are hopeful that they can see the beginning of the end in their state. The Texas Legislature is working on laws that would set expectations for employers. Health care systems would be mandated to provide violence training. They would also be held to expectations for investigation and reporting of any incidents of violence perpetrated against their employees. Even though rules and expectations might be necessary to get the ball rolling, it is enough? Let’s look at the numbers.

What is Workplace Violence?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as an act or threat of violence, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults directed to a person while they are on duty at their place of work. NIOSH goes on to say that fatal workplace violence is highest among those in protective services, sales, and transportation. However, those in healthcare and social work face higher than average nonfatal violence leaves them missing work due to physical and mental injury. To show the impact of workplace violence in healthcare, NIOSH has even created a free CE course for nurses on violence prevention.

Violence in Healthcare by the Numbers

In 2016, nearly 17,000 workers in private industries suffered nonfatal workplace abuse according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The people who suffered violence on the job were predominantly female (70%) and ranged in age from 25 - 54 (67%). You might be wondering where they worked. You guessed it, 70 percent of the workers who experienced nonfatal violence in the workplace were healthcare and social work employees. Because nursing and social work jobs are held by more women than men, this is likely the reason that most victims were female.

Regulatory bodies are taking note of the issue too. The Joint Commission reported in a 2018 Sentinel Event Alert that healthcare workers are at a 20 percent higher risk of being a victim of violence on the job. They also said that in eight-years there were 68 incidents of rape, assault, or homicide against hospital staff. The idea that going to work to help others put you at a higher rate of these violent and life-altering crimes is outrageous!

Why are Nurses at Risk?

Nurses care for people who are ill, injured, and dying. They give up time with their families to work beyond the end of their shift when faced with issues like short staffing, high acuity, and emergencies. Most nurses go into the field with a sincere desire to help others. So, if they are there to help, why are they suffering at the hands of those in their care?

There are a few things that place nurses at risk. Here is a list of factors associated with workplace violence in healthcare:

  • Understaffing
  • Patients with mental health conditions such as dementia
  • Patients and families who act out during stressful situations
  • Gang activity
  • Poor facility conditions such as low-lighting in hallways and parking lots
  • Unrestricted, public access to care areas
  • Lack of community mental health care

Finding a Solution

Nurses in Texas are turning to lawmakers to institute policies that require employers to recognize and prevent these violent incidents from happening. However, this might leave you with questions about enforcement and consequences for those who injure nurses on the job.

Because nurses are often not given a seat at the table when discussing critical topics like this, we invite you to pull up a chair. If you were in charge of violence prevention at your place of work, what would you do? Do we need laws, more policies, or some sort of consequence for those who commit crimes of violence in the healthcare setting?

Let us know your thoughts.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa is a professor, medical writer, and business owner. She has been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word. She is available for writing, editing, and coaching services. You can see more of her work at

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Specializes in NICU.
On 5/9/2019 at 12:38 PM, Melissa Mills said:
  • Understaffing yes
  • Patients with mental health conditions such as dementia yes
  • Patients and families who act out during stressful situations yes
  • Gang activity yes
  • Poor facility conditions such as low-lighting in hallways and parking lots yes
  • Unrestricted, public access to care areas YES
  • Lack of community mental health care YES
Specializes in Dialysis.

Add unsupportive management and administration that only wants great satisfaction scores, and won't do anything unless it happens to them or a loved one. Until we change the mindset of TPTB, nothing else will change their minds