Workplace Violence in Healthcare – Tips on handling an Agitated Patient

Author: Mike Manere, CHC, CHSP, Principal

Jun 3, 2021 | Compliance, OSHA, Risk

Workplace violence has been at the forefront of news reports lately and violence against healthcare workers has risen over the past several years. It’s a topic that is sometimes overlooked and can only be eradicated through conversation, education, and solid safety planning.

About 600,000 health professionals per year are harmed on the job and in 2019.  75% of all violent acts in the workplace occurred in health care settings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between 2011-2018 there were 156 workplace homicides to private healthcare workers averaging out to 20 deaths per year.

These risks are ever-present since healthcare workers are on the frontlines of patient interaction and they interact and treat many different types of people daily – many of whom don’t want to be in a healthcare setting in the first place.

Workplace violence means any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs at the work site. The OSHA Act of 1970 mandates that, in addition to compliance with hazard-specific standards, all employers have a “general duty” to their employees to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

It is the responsibility of your practice to keep your employees safe. A critical part of assuring safety is having a complete violence reaction plan that is well practiced by all employees. It takes time to train staff to be comfortable with site-specific safety measures and tactics they can use to stay safe, so it’s important to be proactive. Here are a few quick tips on de-escalating a situation with an agitated visitor or patient.

  • Don’t get angry in response. Even an attempt at a logical argument may trigger an unpleasant incident into something bigger.
  • Don’t grovel and do not let angry patients draw you into accepting their assumption that the practice is generally inefficient because of their single unhappy experience.
  • Do apologize for the specific inconvenience only and take immediate action to put it right.
  • Do listen and be constructive. Take a deep breath, exercise self-control, and use nonthreatening nonverbals, such as nodding and smiling.
  • Do set limits. Ignore challenging questions.
  • Do allow time for decisions.
  • Do react quickly when signs of violence occur:
    • evacuate the area per your pre trained response plan.
    • get immediate help.
    • communicate with other staff.
    • call 911.