Firefighters, police officers, construction workers — most people aren’t shocked to learn these roles are among the most dangerous professions. But what about nursing?
While many health care professionals face severe and even life-threatening workplace hazards regularly — this is especially true for nurses. RNs have some of the highest illness and injury rates in the healthcare and social assistance sector, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nurses face a higher risk of violence in the workplace, too. A shocking 29 percent of nurses have been verbally and/or physically threatened by a patient or patient family member in the past year, according to data from the ANA Enterprise’s Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation. And more than a third of health workers suffer physical violence at least once during their career, according to the World Health Organization.
Most nurses and nurse leaders are well aware of the hazards they face, and some even consider them merely part of the job. But, there are a few things you should do to decrease your risk of becoming ill or injured at work, and help prevent violence and abuse toward all nursing professionals.
1. Report all threats and violent incidences
Incidences of violence and threats of violence against nursing professionals are highly underreported. In some cases, nurses opt not to report incidents because they fear blame or retaliation, aren’t sure where or how to report incidents, consider violence part of their job or don’t feel supported by management. However, accurate reporting is essential for the development of nurse protection policies.
Often, improving reporting requires a shift in workplace culture. Nurse managers can drive this change by educating their team about reporting processes and encouraging people to come forward.
Additionally, if a patient, patient family member, coworker or anyone threatens you or someone else, or you experience or observe violence in the workplace, it’s critical you report this incident immediately.
For more on reporting violence in the workplace, be sure to review this brief from the American Nurses Association.
2. Practice de-escalation tactics
Emotions run high in healthcare facilities — especially when patients and their families are grappling with difficult news or facing a challenging procedure. Unfortunately, displaced anger is often directed toward nurses.
While nurses should never accept violent or abusive language, there are a few things you can do to diffuse tense situations and protect yourself:
● Maintain a calm expression and even tone
● Use empathetic phrases such as “I understand you’re upset”
● Stand at least two arm’s lengths from any upset individual
● Identify an escape route should an individual become violent
● Ask for backup when delivering unwelcome news
3. Update and practice workplace safety procedures
As a nurse leader, it’s essential you’re well-versed in workplace safety protocol and pass this information on to your team members. It’s also crucial you refresh staff members regularly. For example, while most nurses are trained on how to lift and move patients without injuring themselves, it’s easy to forget proper form over time — especially in a busy environment. Providing a quick reminder about body mechanics can help reduce the risk of injury.
From lockdown drills to handling upset patients and reporting workplace bullying and harassment, nurse managers are responsible for ensuring their team is up-to-date on all current safety policies and procedures.
4. Stay aware of burnout and fatigue
Due to long shifts, physically demanding duties and emotionally exhausting work, nurses face an elevated risk of burn out and fatigue — which can contribute to an increase in workplace accidents.
As a nurse, it’s critical you take breaks and let your supervisor know if you’re not feeling your best as this can affect the wellbeing of your patients as well as your own health and safety. As a nurse manager, it’s important you keep an eye out for symptoms of burnout and exhaustion and encourage team members to take care of themselves at work and off-the-clock.
Working as a nurse is an incredibly fulfilling career, but it’s not without several significant risks. By acknowledging these workplace hazards, reporting incidents and taking efforts to protect yourself, you can help make nursing a safer profession for all.