Survey results reveal high rate of violence toward Alaska nurses

Leading into Nurses Week, May 6-12, the Alaska Nurses Association is highlighting an important issue. New survey results from the organization have been released, showing the high rates of workplace violence workers face in the health care sector. Among the results, the report reveals how the incidents are reported and handled, and the findings exemplify the need for a systemic change.

An astounding 91% of approximately 400 Alaska nurses who took the survey responded they have witnessed or experienced workplace violence, and 92% fear workplace violence. Only one-third of nurses that took the survey had reported all of the incidents they witnessed or experienced and 27% didn’t report any of the incidents they witnessed or experienced in the workplace.

Alaska survey respondents reported experiencing all kinds of workplace assault. About 68% had experienced physical assault, 91% experienced verbal assault, 77% had experienced emotional assault and 24% reported being sexually assaulted in the workplace. According to survey results, many of these incidents happened at the hands of patients (68%) and patient’s family members (31%).

The survey also indicated a bulk of these incidents go unreported because nurses aren’t sure if the severity of the incident warrants a report—they are worried about the condition of their patient, they fear retaliation and other reasons. In fact, 30% of respondents did not even know how to report an incident of violence in their workplace.

The results of the survey bolster the Alaska Nurses Association’s work to support House Resolution 1309/S. 851, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.

This bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney and Rep. Bobby Scott, will direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop an enforceable standard to prevent workplace violence for frontline health care and social service workers, who are five times more likely to be assaulted at work than the rest of the labor force

“Our survey results spell out an uncomfortable fact: workplace violence against health care workers is an epidemic. The legislation is vital to the protection of Alaska’s nurses, far too many of whom have been hurt or injured while taking care of others,” said Stacey Sever, BSN, RN, CCDS and health & safety chair at Alaska Nurses Association. “Many of the violent episodes our members experience could be prevented with the right policies, training, and security provisions, but these need to be enforced. When our members are at risk, we know that patients are at risk, too. It’s past time for a national, enforceable standard.”

If the legislation passes, OSHA will be required to set standards within 18 months that require employers to implement a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan tailored to relevant hazards in their specific facilities.

The required plans would include training, worker involvement, hazard prevention systems, reporting procedures, and post-incident investigations and support – needed protections that are missing in many workplaces now.

Just one-third of nurses responding to the survey say their workplaces have clearly established policies, procedures and expectations for workplace violence prevention and response to violent incidents. Additionally, only 1 in 5 nurses report their workplace offers ongoing training related to workplace violence.

People who would like to get support the nurses’ efforts should contact Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young. The Alaska Nurses Association will have postcards available at local Nurses Week events for nurses and the public to sign and send to encourage them to sponsor the legislation.

The mission of the Alaska Nurses Association is to advance and support the profession of nursing in Alaska by working to improve health standards; promoting access to health care services for Alaskans; fostering professional development of nurses; advancing the economic and general welfare of nurses; and empowering nurses to be dynamic and powerful leaders in health care. As the collective bargaining agent for more than 1,500 nurses statewide, Alaska Nurses serves as a voice for one of the most integral jobs in the health care industry.

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