High and rising rates of workplace violence and employer failure to implement effective prevention strategies is contributing to the staffing crisis
Health care workers are experiencing a surge in workplace violence rates nationally, which has been exacerbated by the health care industry’s actions during the Covid-19 pandemic. This report analyzes new data — gathered in 2023 by National Nurses United (NNU), the largest labor union and professional association for registered nurses (RNs) in the United States — regarding nurses’ recent experiences of workplace violence. To read the full report, including statistics and sources, go here.
NNU’s major findings include:
- The majority of nurses have experienced workplace violence and nearly half have seen a rise in rates in the past year.
- Health care employers continue to fail to implement proven measures to prevent workplace violence and their responses to workplace violence are too often inadequate. Scientific research has documented that unit-specific workplace violence prevention plans created with employee input, safe staffing, and other engineering and administrative controls, work to reduce workplace violence. But NNU’s 2023 analysis found that many health care employers continue to fail to implement these essential protections.
- As a result, nurses are subjected to multiple impacts of workplace violence, including physical and mental injury. Injuries, including both physical and non-physical, can result in long-term physical and mental harm resulting in RNs requiring medical care, taking time off work, and/or considering leaving their jobs or profession altogether.
- Health care employers’ failures to prevent workplace violence are a major contributor to the health care staffing crisis — 6 in 10 RNs report having changed or left their job or profession or considered leaving their job due to workplace violence. The health care staffing crisis has been created by health care employers, whose utter disregard for the lives of nurses, their patients, and families — both before and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic — has resulted in a physical and psychological toll on nurses. Workplace violence has risen in recent years, in large part due to employers’ intentional short-staffing practices. As a result, many nurses are leaving the bedside or profession entirely.
More action is needed:
As a persistent and growing hazard for our members and all health care workers across the country, NNU has advocated for occupational health and safety standards to require employers to prevent violence in health care settings. Our efforts have resulted in the establishment of some of the most comprehensive state-level standards on preventing and reducing violence in the workplace for our members and all health care workers in those states. Where state-level standards have not been established, NNU and our state affiliates have won strong protections for our members through collective bargaining.
Despite these strides, protections for nurses and other health care workers will remain piecemeal in light of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) exclusive jurisdiction in 24 states, making a state OSHA standard impossible in those states. Only a federal OSHA standard on preventing workplace violence in health care will ensure that all nurses and other health care workers are protected.
NNU has identified the necessary standards and other protections to ensure the effectiveness of workplace violence prevention laws.[i] We know from the research literature and nurses’ direct care experiences that, to effectively prevent and mitigate workplace violence hazards, the inclusion of certain elements in employers’ workplace violence prevention plans is critical.
With members who work as direct-care professionals in every state in the nation, NNU believes that we need a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard as detailed in the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (S. 1176/H.R. 2663) to protect nurses, other health care workers, and their patients from workplace violence. This federal bill would mandate that federal OSHA create a standard that would require health care and social service employers to create, implement, and maintain effective workplace violence prevention plans. Under S. 1176/H.R. 2663, such a standard would include all the elements that effectively protect nurses and other health care workers.
The data analyzed in this report underscores the importance of prompt action to protect nurses, other health care workers, and their patients. To read the full report, including statistics and sources, go here.
[i] National Nurses United. (2021, February). Injury to None Preventing Workplace Violence to Protect Health Care Workers and Their Patients.