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How to mitigate violence and improve hospital workplace safety

by Paul Kazlauskas

mitigate violence and improve hospital safety

There is a lot of tension in hospitals. It is an emotionally charged place filled with people who are not happy to be there (both patients and visitors). When you add in the fact that many hospitals have an “open-door” security policy, there is a high chance of violence to occur, especially to healthcare workers who are hit, scratched, bit, threatened, and harassed with unfortunate regularity. According to a 2014 survey, almost 80% of nurses reported being attacked on the job within the previous year.

Why is this industry so vulnerable to violence? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Lack of or poor training for recognizing and managing violent incidents
  • Long waits for medical services and overcrowded waiting rooms
  • Free movement of the public in the facility
  • Low staffing
  • Notion that facilities tolerate violence and discourage/prevent victims from reporting incidents
  • Working alone
  • Poor facility design and/or inadequately lit rooms
  • Working in neighborhoods with a high crime rate

What can be done? Here are three considerations:

1. Decreasing workplace violence starts with people. Senior leadership needs to acknowledge the problem exists because the numbers are impossible to ignore. Management must commit adequate resources to address and reduce the violence and promote a hospital culture that values the importance of security and safety. They must also create overall violence prevention plans, with training that focuses on the risks that will affect your facility. Security staff should be empowered to enforce workplace security rules and regulations. Hospital employees should be trained on how best to react to any situation that could lead to violence and be encouraged to report every incident that occurs, regardless of the circumstances. When staff is trained to mitigate situations:

  • They can better recognize the warning signs of violent conduct.
  • They have a better chance of preventing violent situations.
  • They can minimize damage before it escalates, by staying calm and communicating with their colleagues.
  • Incident reporting can help facilities identify areas in need of additional security resources.

2. Another critical factor in reducing workplace violence is for institutions to establish policies, procedures, and guidelines on how to respond to and report violent behavior. Your facility should have proper protocols in place so your staff knows how to respond to violent behavior and the process to report it. Implementing a system to evaluate your facility’s physical and procedural security strengths and weaknesses is also important to ensure additional security measures are considered as needed.

3. The final major factor of improving hospital workplace violence involves the use of technology. There is an array of technologies available today to assist healthcare facilities in improving safety and security. Risk assessment and available budget will go a long way in determining what a facility deems most important to implement.

For example, surveillance cameras may help to deter violence, can send an alert when an incident is occurring, and provide footage of the event. If the budget allows, cameras with analytics allow for functionality such as facial recognition, to alert security of intruders and any past incidents they may have been involved in, and audio detection, which can send an alert when certain noises occur (breaking glass, gun shot, aggression in a voice, etc.).

According to the Health Facilities Management “ASHE 2016 Hospital Security Survey”, these are the top five security systems used in healthcare facilities today:

  1. Electronic access control
  2. Digital IP video surveillance
  3. Vendor management system
  4. Wired panic alarm system
  5. Electronic incident reporting system

Technology has evolved to allow new applications that provide solutions in a way most people might not consider. It is important to do your homework and get up to speed on the latest technologies to protect patients, visitors, staff, property, medical instruments, and supplies. Security directors should ensure the new security technology will be effective in patient care, positively affect the quality of care, and has a sound return on investment (which will help justify the cost and purchase). While technology can potentially make security more efficient, technology isn’t replacing the humans needed to define its use, the security process overall, and the training of security personnel.

What other ways can hospital security directors improve workplace security? What other new technologies can be implemented to decrease the amount of violence in healthcare facilities? Please add your thoughts below in the “Comments” section.

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Posted on 9/18/2017

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