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The growing problem of workplace violence against nurses

It is a job where a “typical workday” may include yelling, spitting, or serious assaults. In fact, many feel that the risk of violence these professionals face on an ongoing basis makes it one of America’s most dangerous jobs.


A 2016 Government Accountability Office report found that the likelihood of workplace violence in health care settings is five to 12 times higher than any other job. A recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration survey of nurses reveals 75 percent question had suffered physical and verbal abuse by not only their patients, but also their family members and visitors.

Specific breakdowns include:

  • Twenty-one percent of nurses and nursing students suffered physical assaults with 50 percent citing verbal abuse in a 12-month time span
  • Thirteen percent of VA hospital staff reported assaults within one year
  • Twelve percent of ER nurses were victimized by physical violence with 59 percent suffering verbal abuse throughout the course of seven days

Recent stories in the media document nurses being stabbed, sexually assaulted, taken hostage and pushed down flights of stairs. Lawmakers in some states are taking action by making attacking a nurse a felony crime. Also drawing a line in the sand over the growing instances of workplace violence, the American Nurses Association has issued a zero-tolerance policy.

Nurses victimized by workplace violence received significant media attention following the stabbing of Elise Wilson in Southbridge, Massachusetts. While state lawmakers were already working on related legislation, they renamed their bill, Elise’s Law.

Testimony revealed alarming incidences of nurses being subject to violence more than police or prison guards. Nurses also recounted threats by patients wielding pens and pencils, scissors, knives, guns, medical equipment and furniture. All of these instances occurred in the past two years.

The bill that will create state workplace protection standards is already on the fast track.

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