Around the globe, healthcare workers provide an essential service to their communities; a service that, especially now, is deeply valued and understood by the masses. And yet, in their continued efforts to ensure and protect the health and well-being of others, healthcare workers are commonly placed in a high-risk position. The nature and subsequent demands of their role as caretakers and health professionals, can, oftentimes, come at the cost of their own safety.
In fact, the numbers are quite staggering. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports that, despite healthcare workers only making up 9% of the overall U.S workforce, they experience nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined. Even further, in 2019, 47% of emergency department physicians reported that they were physically assaulted during work, and 71% of nurses reported experiencing sexual harassment at the hands of patients. According to Statistics Canada, 34% of nurses have reported being physically assaulted by a patient. In Ontario alone, more than 800 health-care workers report missing work due to violence on the job over the past year.
Surely, we can all agree — this shouldn’t just be “part of the job”. So, the question becomes, what needs to change? How can healthcare facilities pro-actively invest in, and protect, the well-being of their staff?
Healthcare Staff Safety Reform is Gaining Momentum
For years, there existed no federal law that mandated hospitals and healthcare facilities to implement standardized plans to prevent workplace violence, and, historically, healthcare workers suffered the consequences. That is, until now.
This past year has proved instrumental in the continued push for workplace staff safety at large. Heightened awareness surrounding employee safety in the hospitality industry, specifically, has helped to inform the policies of other sectors and highlight those which require intervention. In light of this momentum, Washington State introduced a “panic button” bill for hospitals in January, aimed at preventing “the sexual harassment and sexual assault of certain isolated workers.” Titled Senate Bill 5258, the legislation requires every hospital employer to enact a sexual harassment policy, provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to all employees, and provide a list of all employees and provide a panic button app to each isolated worker.
In November, the House of Representatives also passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309). This Act would “require the Department of Labor to create an occupational safety and health standard requiring certain healthcare and social service employers to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for protecting healthcare workers, social workers, and other personnel from workplace violence.” Similar to Bill 5258, this legislation is aimed at mitigating workplace violence and harassment across healthcare facilities through the provision of enhanced training and education, updated protocols, and preventative measures.
Protect your Staff and your Bottom Line
Healthcare workers report frequent incidents involving physical violence (being hit, punched, kicked, scratched, or bitten by patients), as well as sexual harassment, and/or verbalized threats to their wellbeing. Understandably, this treatment can lead to a variety of personal and professional implications, including chronic mental stress, reduced morale, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a result, hospitals and healthcare facilities may find themselves notoriously short-staffed or unable to fill roles with qualified candidates due to a widely perpetuated fear of workplace harm. According to a study by National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, the average hospital turnover rate in 2017 was 18.2%, which is the highest recorded turnover in the industry for almost a decade. In fact, market analysts say that healthcare’s turnover is second worst, only to hospitality. The Ministry of Labour also reports that violent incidents in 2015 cost Ontario health-care institutions over $23 million.
Panic Buttons: Must-Have Safety Technology
Fortunately for healthcare professionals, panic buttons represent a pro-active, proven solution to the problem at hand. With the implementation of new-age employee safety devices (ESDs), hospitals and healthcare facilities can provide their staff with a discreet, highly accessible way to call for help whenever they feel vulnerable or at risk. These platforms rely on Bluetooth technology which works both on and off property, and allows management to pinpoint the precise, real-time location of a distress call. Within seconds of an alert, help is on the way.
Moreover, these modern devices are far more intuitive than their legacy noisemaker counterparts. Solutions are entirely customizable, tailored to the unique needs of each healthcare facility, to ensure the on-going safety of their staff using beacon Bluetooth functionality, mobile app access, and stand-alone LTE panic buttons. Boasting a user-friendly interface, the implementation of an ESD platform should require little training, and can be easily adopted by staff and utilized in the case of an emergency. Not only will this technology put you in compliance with emerging legislative requirements, but it will guarantee the safety of your staff both now and in the future.
Finally, industry leaders are realizing that staff safety reform is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ initiative; rather, it’s a must-have. Employers bear the responsibility of protecting their staff, and healthcare should be no exception.