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Workplace Violence in Healthcare: What Does the Data Say?

August 14, 2019

Note: This is the first post in a three-part series on workplace violence in hospitals.

This week marks the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s Safe and Sound Week, a nationwide awareness campaign to encourage workplace safety. We’ve partnered with Spectralink to look at Safe and Sound week through the lens of healthcare and one of America’s most dangerous jobs: nursing.

Not only are hospital workplace injuries caused by lifting, carrying, and transferring patients, but nurses and other healthcare staff face unique risks not found in other professions, including exposure to chemicals, needle sticks, and the potential for violence from patients and their families.

Hospital injury and illness rates

In 2017, hospital staff suffered 51,380 work-related injuries and illnesses that caused employees to miss work. These injuries occurred at an incidence rate of 129.8 cases per 10,000 full-time workers—45% higher than the rate for all occupations (89.4 cases per 10,000 workers).

In terms of employees missing work due to injury or illness, it’s more hazardous to work in a hospital than in construction or manufacturing. Additionally, these numbers don’t account for injuries that go unreported or when an employee continues to work despite an injury.

Design Note: Please make the below statistics into a graph to include here. Please have “hospitals” and “nursing and residential care facilities” in one color or other design element so it can stand out. Please also keep U.S. average on top so it’s easy for the reader to see it at a glance.

The causes of injury: What role does violence play?

How are healthcare professionals getting hurt, and what role does violence play?



The most common injuries are caused by overexertion and bodily reactions, including motions of lifting, lowering, or repetitive motions. Sprains, strains, and tears are the most common symptoms that require time off from work. These injuries are likely related to patient handling.

Since 2011, reports of violence increased from 9% to 13%, and are 9% higher than the rate of all U.S. occupations (4%). Again, these numbers don’t account for violent injuries that go unreported or where an employee continues to work despite an injury.



Other research has shown the rate of violence for those in healthcare is as much as twelve times higher than for those in other professions. A study in 2017 found of all emergency department workers, nurses were the most likely to have been physically assaulted in the last six months and were less likely to feel safe. Nearly 60% reported verbal abuse and 12% were physically assaulted in the week prior to the survey.

Though this data tells a story of hospitals as a risky workplace, it’s difficult to grasp the entire scope of the problem. There is no regulatory requirement for healthcare workers to report incidents of violence, and each organization has its own policies and procedures. Each hospital reports this data differently to outside entities, making it difficult for researchers to compile and analyze data.

There is also a culture within healthcare that workplace violence is a necessary part of the job. Nurses often consider physical violence a symptom of their patient’s illness, so they don’t submit incident reports. Working together, these barriers give the perception that violent incidents are routine, and therefore do not need to be treated.

Violent incidents can feel subjective, presenting another barrier to reporting. Is verbal abuse workplace violence? How about sarcastic or threatening language? How does bullying look and feel? Is this incident serious enough to report? Working within a culture that often accepts violence as “a day in the life,” it’s no wonder research shows only 20 to 60% of nurses report incidents of violence.

Research in 2015 studied the 12-month prevalence of violence in six U.S. hospitals. In that time, more than 2,000 workers experienced 1,180 physical assaults, 2,260 physical threats, and 5,576 incidents of verbal abuse. Only 19% of events were reported into official reporting systems.

Without enough support or resources to handle the realities of violence in the workplace, nurses have lower staff morale, higher turnover, and increased reports of burnout.

Read the full results of our 2019 survey on clinician burnout in healthcare >>

Legislation and looking forward

There is recent movement to recognize and improve workplace violence against hospital staff.

In February 2019, members of Congress re-introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which would be the first federal legislation to prevent workplace violence in healthcare. If passed, OSHA would issue a requirement for employers to develop and implement violence prevention plans to protect healthcare employees.

A 2019 report released by the American Nurses Association stated, “The rate of violence against health care workers has reached epidemic proportions,” and proposed a multifaceted strategy to combat workplace violence. The recommendations ask for a focus on:

  • Stopping violence before it occurs though education and identifying risks
  • Immediate and effective response to violence
  • Intervention to reduce long-term negative effects of workplace violence

Spok and Spectralink are partners in providing solutions to quickly alert nearby staff members and/or the security team of safety events, ensuring the appropriate help can arrive and resolve the situation quickly. Learn more about our partnership. You may also be interested in Spectralink’s post, In Healthcare, Taking Care of Business Starts by Taking Care of Caregivers.

To learn more about how to build a culture of safety and prevent workplace violence, OSHA has a wealth of resources for hospitals.

In part two of our series on workplace violence in hospitals, we’ll explore stories from real nurses and hear their recommendations to create a safer work environment.

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Provider Experience

By Katie Cornwell, MSN, NNP-BC, CNS
Katie Cornwell is Director of Clinical Marketing at Spok. She has over 20 years of experience in the clinical, medical device, and healthcare IT fields. Katie has worked at the bedside as a neonatal and pediatric critical care nurse, Nurse Practitioner, and Clinical Nurse Specialist. Prior to joining Spok, Katie also held roles in medical device product management and in healthcare IT product management and marketing. She earned her BSN from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Masters NNP and CNS degrees from Duke University. Connect with Katie on LinkedIn.