Protecting health care workers from workplace violence

It’s critical to identify risk factors that lead to violent incidents for health care workers. Violence risk assessments can help employers find solutions. 

Photo of a blonde health care worker in blue scrubs looking afraid and holding her hands up palm outward

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The number of violent incidents reported at B.C.’s health care workplaces is on the rise.

This news release from the BC Nurses’ Union reports a 52 percent increase in violent incidents reported between 2014 and 2018. On average, every month 26 nurses in B.C. are injured due to violence at work.

Six percent of all time-loss claims are from health care assistants, making them the most-often-injured workers in the province, according to WorkSafeBC. Injuries from violent incidents are the second-most-common injuries among care workers after musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs).

Learning from past incidents of violence in health care

Violence can be intentional or unintentional. It can happen when patients are feeling emotional distress, experiencing illnesses such as dementia, reacting to medications, struggling to communicate, or for many other reasons. Looking at these reasons is an important part of finding solutions.

That’s why B.C. health care employers are required (in accordance with section 4.28 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation) to conduct violence risk assessments (VRAs).

“Violence risk assessments show employers what the risks are so they can start controlling them,” says Aaron Kong, a WorkSafeBC supervisor of Prevention Field Services.

“Once employers have their statistics and data on violent incidents, they need to analyze what it’s telling them. What are the factors that led to these violent incidents occurring? What did they learn from those?”

One situation that acute or long-term care employers might review for potential risks, for example, is their process for admitting new patients with a history of violent behaviour. Another example, for a community care employer, is looking at how they plan for day trips with clients, especially if travelling in vehicles.

Employers helping employers

As part of WorkSafeBC’s 2019 Health Care High Risk Strategy, WorkSafeBC officers are reviewing employers’ VRAs during site inspections this year. They’re also asking employers to consider sharing their VRA information with other employers, as others can learn a lot from their experiences.

“When employers consider workplaces similar to their own when conducting a VRA, they have opportunities to network and learn from each other,” says Aaron, adding that a number of employers that officers have spoken to agreed to share information and offered to help in any way they can.

Find more information about safety for workers in health care and social services on Also see Violence Prevention from SafeCare BC, and this Vancouver Courier article, Workplace violence at “crisis” level for care workers, says Burnaby non-profit.

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