Compliance Corner: Mitigating a Workplace Violence Program During a Pandemic
Staffing during this pandemic has created challenges for many sleep centers. We have been challenged to not only implement enhanced infection control strategies and patient health screening but also have been tasked to staff our sleep centers appropriately to provide ideal social distancing. This has resulted in spreading out staff over the week and leaving beds closed rather than having staff work together in some instances. The consequence of this is having more staff working alone, making them more vulnerable to possible workplace violence. It is that safety concern I will be addressing in this article.
Working alone includes all workers who may go for a period of time where they do not have direct contact with a co-worker. For example, the receptionist in a staffed office building may be considered a "lone" worker along with the sleep technologist staffed to work alone during their shift.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as "violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty." Even if no physical injury takes place, threats, abuse, hostility, harassment and other forms of verbal violence can cause significant psychological trauma and stress — and potentially escalate to physical violence.
The American Journal of Managed Care in December 2020 published an article on the persistent pandemic of violence against health care workers. The article reports that the problem of violence against health care workers has escalated across the world, and tackling this issue requires the support of administrators, medical directors and all team members. Shocking was to see reported statistics from a study in 2000 that found that 82% of U.S. nurses had been assaulted at least once during their careers, and 73% believed that assault was just part of their job. Studies have shown that the most common acts of violence against nurses were shouting or yelling (60.0% by patients, 35.8% by visitors), swearing (53.5% by patients, 24.9% by visitors) and grabbing (37.8% by patients, 1.1% by visitors). It has been my experience in managing sleep centers that the same prevalence is reported by sleep center staff.
Patients, family members and visitors commit these violent and abusive attacks for many reasons, and it is difficult to predict. Some of the reasons can be explained by substance abuse, mental illness and/or powerful emotions that manifest themselves in destructive ways. Violence challenges the moral and ethical obligations of physicians, leading to difficult decisions that may need to be made to protect others. I found it sobering to see that so many health care workers felt it was just part of their job.
For further guidance on developing a workplace violence policy that addresses risk management and prevention of workplace violence, read the full article in the 2021 Q1 issue of A2Zzz.