Nurses face violent workplace--study

By Gilbert A. Bouchard


While many may not see nursing as a high-risk occupation, a recent survey of 6,500 Alberta nurses indicates otherwise.


University of Alberta’s Dr. Carole A. Estabrooks, a registered nurse and one “For every five shifts, some 300 nurses face some kind of abuse,” says the of the study’s co-investigators.

Not only was the research team surprised by the high rates of abuse nurses face in the workplace, they were further disturbed to discover how little of this abuse is officially reported-46 per cent. Estabrooks says this low rate hampers efforts to raise awareness of the problem and effect change at an institutional level.

“Another problem is the literature is not always clear about the definition of violence, something we tried to be very specific about before we questioned the nurses.” The Alberta survey defines abuse in a variety of ways:

physical assault (being bitten, spat on, pushed or hit) threat of assault (verbal or written threats intending harm) emotional abuse, such as hurtful attitudes or remarks verbal sexual harassment (repeated, unwanted intimate questions or remarks of a sexual nature)

sexual assault (any forced physical sexual contact) Estabrooks says the survey reinforces other studies conducted in the past. A 1995 national study found 80 per cent of Canadian nurses reported some form of violence during their career. Another study, published in 1994, found up to one-third of nurses had experienced workplace violence within a one-year period. Even more shocking, the U.S. Bureau of Labor states nurses face a 16 times greater risk for non-fatal workplace violence than do other workers, including law enforcement workers.

While patients are the main source of physical abuse on the job, the survey indicates emotional abuse is “spread out, with everybody abusing the nurses including nurses themselves.”

Given the widespread nature of the abuse, Estabrooks says innovative intervention models have to be developed. “In the past most of the work has been done at the individual level, but it might be more important to look at intervention on a organizational level,” she explains. Estabrooks says stable workplaces and environments where there are high quality relationships among nurses, licensed practical nurses and doctors have a positive influence on the amount of emotional abuse.

The survey of workplace violence was a component of the International Study of Hospital Outcomes and included a nursing questionnaire that explored perceptions of their work environment, including workplace violence.

Estabrooks says while preliminary survey data on workplace violence has been collected and released, the main study—led by the Faculty of Nursing’s Dr.  Phyllis Giovannetti and funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research—will take another year to complete.

This article reprinted with permission of ExpressNews, University of Alberta