5 Ways HR Leaders Can Impact Workplace Safety for Medical Practices and Clinics

Workplace violence is one of the most talked about topics in healthcare. While the industry has always faced a level of increased risk compared to others, healthcare has witnessed accelerated rates of violence and aggression towards workers post-Covid. Initiated by patients, their family members, and sometimes even employees or spouses of staff, workplace violence has grown into a problem we just can’t seem to shake.

Experts who dig into the root causes of this increase typically uncover frustration from longer wait times, a disconnect between patient and caregiver, and a heightened level of agitation in our population across the board. Such a complex and far-reaching problem begs the question: How do we go about fixing it? The answer is a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach.

Human resources leaders are most likely involved in some aspects of workplace violence prevention on their campuses, whether through reporting, follow-up, workman’s compensation claims, etc. Through this involvement, they have a unique opportunity to position themselves as a key leader or champion for initiatives that promote workplace safety. But there’s not always a clear starting point.

Many HR leaders face barriers that can make it feel like they’re being tasked to solve problems with no resources. And that can make their jobs very difficult.

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Let’s dig into the five tactics and methods used to address workplace violence that can help make a difference.

  1. Define the Problem: Assess Your Risks

Workplace violence is not a cookie-cutter problem and there isn’t an overnight fix. Before diving into budget requests for metal detectors and police presence, spend time defining and analyzing what workplace violence looks like in the facility. Pull together a diverse team of representatives from within the organization with varying experience levels and strengths. The most effective teams are those that include staff most likely to encounter workplace violence face-to-face. Their insights can be critical to the effectiveness of prevention strategies.

  1. Proactively Implement a Comprehensive Safety Plan

Legislation surrounding workplace violence has picked up momentum over the past year. Many states like Texas and Kentucky are finding themselves needing to quickly plan for compliance with new laws and policies. Additionally, some facilities kick the can of improving workplace safety down the road until a tragic or too-close-for-comfort incident occurs, and now they’re forced to implement a rushed solution as a whiplash effect.

Neither of these scenarios is ideal. And, they almost always end up being more costly than a thorough, thought-out safety plan.

In almost every healthcare facility around the country, nurses and patient-facing staff are pleading for increased safety measures. Being able to say, “We hear you, we value you, and we’re going to do something about it,” can go a long way in terms of employee engagement and retention. Unfortunately, organizations lose a lot of their luster if they’re reacting to a mandate or a severely violent incident. Facilities that take early steps to enhance workplace safety for their staff can make significant strides in their relationship with their people.

During a recent on-site training session in Alabama, one HR Leader opened the meeting by sharing that on staff engagement surveys, over 60% of their nurses expressed feeling unsafe at work, and that their campuses were investing in wearable duress badges for every staff member as a response.

  1. Explore Clever, Cost-Effective Solutions

While innovative technology for incident response can make a substantial impact on safety plans, there are additional measures that can be taken easily and sometimes at a very reasonable (almost non-existent) cost.

In a recent presentation led by a Chief Medical Officer in Massachusetts, he noted the Emergency Department, like many others, was struggling to deal with an increase in violent or aggressive patients. He credited one simple solution as a driving factor in their ability to decrease assaults by 15%. They implemented a “flag” method to easily and clearly communicate when a patient displayed signs of aggression. He explained that while digital patient documentation also shows when a patient displays signs of aggression, not every person encountering that patient may see or have access to those records. Posting a small flag outside the patient’s room made every staff member in the hospital aware of the potential risk and enabled them to prepare themselves as necessary.

Another fairly easy and cost-effective solution to combat workplace violence is a Code of Conduct policy for patients and visitors. Several health systems have shared that posting signs expressing a zero-tolerance policy for violence against caregivers has contributed to a decrease in violent or aggressive incidents.

This goes to show the age-old phrase, “keep it simple,” still holds.

  1. Offer Compassionate Employee Support

This seems like a no-brainer, but a recent survey conducted by Vivian found that 43% of healthcare administrations ignored clinician complaints of workplace violence that occurred between December 12, 2023, and January 11, 2024. And only 17% protected the victim and conducted a wellness check after the incident.

In an industry that’s overcome tough times in recent years, acts of kindness and compassion can be invaluable contributions. Remembering that before anything else, our people are humans that need love and support is critical.

Some ideas to show support for those experiencing or susceptible to workplace violence include:

  • Conduct check-ins after a report of workplace violence to see how the victim is doing and what support they might need.
  • Ensure mental health services like counseling are available to victims of workplace violence.
  • Ensure time off is given for victims to reset and recover from the incident and any injuries they may have sustained.
  • Implement a leadership wellness team to deliver top-down messages of support and compassion.
  1. Engage in Continuous Improvement, Analyzing Data and Progress

Because workplace violence is an ongoing, multifaceted issue, continuing to analyze trends and adjust safety measures is necessary. Adopting technology that ensures accessibility, and helps streamline report intake and data export, will help HR leaders stay on top of the progress their  facility is making to improve workplace safety. Proper and accessible reporting can also help ensure compliance with OSHA, JCO, and other accreditation guidelines.

As the media spotlight continues to illuminate workplace safety challenges in healthcare, the demand for accountability will continue to grow. A recent example of this is playing out in Connecticut currently, where the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration brought $163,000 in fines against a home health organization after “an investigation found that the company did not provide adequate safeguards” to protect a nurse who was killed by a patient at work. If enforced, this could spark more calls for accountability regarding workplace safety in healthcare.

Mitigating workplace violence is complex. With proper attention and due diligence, organizations can create a culture of safety. With a comprehensive strategy and a team of supporters, a safer workplace isn’t far out of reach.

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