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Course 776 - Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Violence Prevention Programs

OSHA Guidelines for Health Care

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidelines for Health Care and Social Service Workers offer an excellent framework for thinking about the challenges of workplace violence prevention.

OSHA's five major elements of an effective workplace violence prevention program are:

  1. Management commitment and employee involvement;
  2. Worksite analysis;
  3. Hazard prevention and control;
  4. Safety and health training;
  5. Recordkeeping and program evaluation.

It is important to understand that these guidelines are intended to help organizations implement effective workplace violence prevention programs; they are not enforceable regulations. However, OSHA's regulatory authority derives from the General Duty Clause.

Program Goals

The goal is to eliminate or reduce worker exposure to conditions that lead to death or injury from violence by implementing effective security devices and administrative work practices, among other control measures.

Program Objectives

Clear goals and objectives are needed to prevent workplace violence. It should be suitable for the size and complexity of the workplace operation and adaptable to specific situations in each establishment. Employers should communicate information about the prevention program and startup date to all employees.

At a minimum, workplace violence prevention programs should:

  • Create and disseminate a clear policy of zero tolerance for workplace violence, verbal and nonverbal threats and related actions. Ensure that managers, supervisors, coworkers, clients, patients and visitors know about this policy.
  • Ensure that no employee who reports or experiences workplace violence faces reprisals.
  • Encourage employees to promptly report incidents and suggest ways to reduce or eliminate risks. Require records of incidents to assess risk and measure progress.
  • Outline a comprehensive plan for maintaining security in the workplace. This includes establishing a liaison with law enforcement representatives and others who can help identify ways to prevent and mitigate workplace violence.
  • Assign responsibility and authority for the program to individuals or teams with appropriate training and skills. Ensure that adequate resources are available for this effort and that the team or responsible individuals develop expertise on workplace violence prevention in health care and social services.
  • Affirm management commitment to a worker-supportive environment that places as much importance on employee safety and health as on serving the patient or client.
  • Set up a company briefing as part of the initial effort to address issues such as preserving safety, supporting affected employees and facilitating recovery.

Management Commitment

Management commitment and employee involvement are complementary and essential elements of an effective safety and health program. To ensure an effective program, management and frontline employees must work together, perhaps through a team or committee approach. If employers opt for this strategy, they must be careful to comply with the applicable provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.

Management commitment, including the endorsement and visible involvement of top management, provides the motivation and resources to deal effectively with workplace violence. This commitment should include:

  • demonstrating organizational concern for employee emotional and physical safety and health
  • exhibiting equal commitment to the safety and health of workers and patients/clients
  • assigning responsibility for the various aspects of the workplace violence prevention program to ensure that all managers, supervisors and employees understand their obligations
  • allocating appropriate authority and resources to all responsible parties
  • maintaining a system of accountability for involved managers, supervisors and employees
  • establishing a comprehensive program of medical and psychological counseling and debriefing for employees experiencing or witnessing assaults and other violent incidents
  • supporting and implementing appropriate recommendations from safety and health committees

Employee Involvement

Through involvement and feedback, workers can provide useful information to employers to design, implement and evaluate the program. In addition, workers with different functions and at various organizational levels bring a broad range of experience and skills to program design, implementation, and assessment.

  • Mental health specialists have the ability to appropriately characterize disease characteristics but may need training and input from threat assessment professionals.
  • Direct care workers, in emergency departments or mental health, may bring very different perspectives to committee work.

The range of viewpoints and needs should be reflected in committee composition. This involvement should include:

  • Participation in the development, implementation, evaluation, and modification of the workplace violence prevention program;
  • Participation in safety and health committees that receive reports of violent incidents or security problems, making facility inspections and responding to recommendations for corrective strategies;
  • Providing input on additions to or redesigns of facilities;
  • Identifying the daily activities that employees believe put them most at risk for workplace violence;
  • Discussions and assessments to improve policies and procedures, including complaint and suggestion programs designed to improve safety and security;
  • Ensuring that there is a way to report and record incidents and near misses, and that issues are addressed appropriately;
  • Ensuring that there are procedures to ensure that employees are not retaliated against for voicing concerns or reporting injuries; and
  • Employee training and continuing education programs.

Case Report

An OSHAcademy student who has been in different aspects of emergency services since 1972, sent us this short story from his time in hospital security.

Back around 1990, the security contractor for which I was working had just taken over the contract at a small community hospital in Connecticut. At the time, I believe it was about 50-60 beds. We assumed the contract at 4:00 PM. At 5:30, I heard one of the emergency department (ED) nurses scream for help, so I went charging in. The patient was a young male, probably in his 20s, and seemed to be high on some sort of drug. He was fighting with the nurse and was giving her a severe beating. I managed to take him down back onto the gurney and called for the nurse to get some restraints. “We don’t have any in the treatment rooms!” I told her to get me a bed sheet and some towels or pillowcases and cloth tape. I got his arms secured to the rails and was working on his feet when the cavalry arrived. The attending demanded to know who I was. "I'm your new security officer." He also wanted to know where I learned the sheet-and-towel trick. I told him my previous assignment had been the ED at St Raphael’s in New Haven, which was a major inner-city hospital. I had received restraint training at St Ray’s, including the sheet-and-towel for the occasions when they ran out of leather restraints. The attending and the nurses were thrilled they had security who could help them, instead of just calling 911.

Some of the changes that came about after that incident:

  • Restraints were kept in every treatment room in the ED.
  • All security staff received training in the hospital’s restraint system (and we shared the sheet-and-towel procedure with those who were not familiar with it).
  • Security was directed to respond at the first sign of trouble.
  • Two trainers from our Boston headquarters provided Mandt training to hospital staff who had not received it.
  • The trainers and other Boston staff worked with the client to revise their emergency plans for the ED (and other hospital areas).
  • Security staff were promptly added to the Emergency Operations and Planning Committees.

Source: OSHAcademy Student Andrew E.; United States



Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Clear _____ and _____ are needed to prevent workplace violence.

2. A workplace violence program does not need to include continuing education to recognize escalating violence.

3. Which of the following is/are essential elements of an effective safety and health program?

4. A workplace violence program must be suitable for the _____ and _____ of the operation.

5. Management commitment should include concern for employee emotional and physical safety and health.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.