Preventing violence in health care settings

Violence against nurses

It can range from swearing, spitting, or groping all the way to assault and even murder. It can happen in any setting: emergency department, mental health, labor and delivery, or day surgery. Nurses and other health care workers are at increased risk for violence in the workplace.  Nurses can’t choose their patients or their patients’ families.  Still, they often must interact with angry, frustrated, violent, or just agitated people.  We know nurses miss work four times more often due to injury caused by others.  Too often employers don’t provide adequate training and resources to help front line staff identify warning signs of violence and how to de-escalate those situations.

What can nurses do? What should employers do?

 “It’s Part of the Job”

First and foremost, we don’t have to take it. Just because violence on the job is common in the health care field doesn’t mean it has to be. The first thing that needs to change is the culture of acceptance and inevitability.

We can’t tolerate violence as “just part of the job.”  Has a manager ever told you that you should expect it because you work in a certain unit or specialty?  Has someone ever suggested you might not be cut out for your job because you reported a violent incident?

We can’t let our employer or our patient’s family use guilt to prevent us from reporting violent incidents.  Yes, our patients are vulnerable, and we are ethically obligated to care and advocate for them. We are not obligated to put their care about our own safety and lives.  Being in pain, under stress, confused or under the influence of drugs or chemicals does not give patients or their families the right to assault health care workers.

 “There’s Nothing We Can Do About It”

Click link below to see entire infographic

Often when we think of workplace violence, we think of media reports of mass shootings in public places, by a determined and unstoppable assailant, but those incidents, are rare.  Much more common are the day-to-day violent incidents, ranging from verbal abuse to physical abuse from a patient, patient’s family or coworker that can be prevented.  There are many strategies that employers can take to keep staff and employees safe from harm.  Prevention can be as simple as engineering controls to verbal de-escalation training for front line workers.

One of the most important pieces of preventing workplace violence is collecting data immediately after an incident to analyze the circumstances that surround violence.  Does your workplace have a process for reporting violence against nurses?  Have you reported violent incidents if they have

happened to you?

What Can We Do?

The Minnesota Department of Health recently began convening a work group to develop best practices around violence prevention in health care settings, including hospitals, clinics, and long term care facilities.  MNA sends one member and one staffer to these meetings to voice the concerns and ideas of front line health care workers.  Once developed, these best practices will be shared with all Minnesota health care facilities, but implementation will be voluntary.  T

his is a start, and MNA members and leaders will continue to work through many other channels to help protect nurses in the meantime.

If you have suggestions or comments to contribute to the Department of Health task force, please email them to

Read more:

Star Tribune: Minnesota hospitals train to prevent, react to violence