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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Many Workplaces have their degrees of potential dangers and the medical field is no exception. In fact, healthcare professionals are more likely to experience this more than most other service type professions. They work in an unpredictable environment and need to be ready for almost anything.

The Emergency Nurses Association has stated, “Workplace violence is a significant occupational hazard facing emergency nurses.” Several studies have been conducted showing these kinds of occurrences are on the rise.

A 2011 survey conducted by the ENA had shown the frequency of incidences that occurred during a 7 day stretch. Verbal violence being the most common top complaint; however those who reported being physically assaulted reported having more than one encounter within a single visit with that patient.

Dangers to nurses, doctors, technicians, and paramedics do not stop at verbal or physical abuse. They also have some additional dangers lurking and health risks such as coming into contact with blood borne pathogens, contagious diseases, chemical hazards, slips and falls. If a health care worker has been spit on, scratched, vomited on or pricked with an infected needle, they run the risk of infection or other complications. These types of injuries can pose long-term negative effects that can have an impact on the person’s profession, as well as personal life. Some additional risks may cost them a lifetime of turmoil, or even their life.

Violence in the emergency room or even in private practices is a serious problem. In 2010 penalties were increased for individuals who injure or make an attempt at injuring on duty health care providers. Virginia has taken this situation seriously and has passed laws in regards to committing battery against a health care professional. Whether it is in an emergency room of a hospital, clinic or any facility where they offer emergency health care they will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. The person, if convicted may serve a term of confinement of 15 days in jail, with a minimum of two days mandatory term of confinement.

Better health care planning and safety strategies for nurses and practitioners in the workplace should be taken seriously. Prevention and awareness are always effective tools. It will also be cost effective to reduce the number of works’ compensation claims, legal suits, and time paid for missed work which may include overtime to cover the absent employee.

Most of these patients have a mental condition, are on drugs or alcohol and may be looking to receive prescription drugs, or have a condition where they cannot help certain reactions as in seizures. It would be beneficial to health care workers to be educated on the various potential situations and dangers that can arise in the workplace.

This education should be implemented into their training programs for the safety of the workers, so that if a situation presents itself, the worker can be ready and have a defense or course of action. Everyone deserves to function with the maximum amount of safety in their workplace.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.


  1. Gravatar for Nanci

    Prevention and awareness are definately important tools. Defense Tactics for EMS ( is the best hands on training available. I urge all employers to offer this training to their employees.

  2. Gravatar for Mike

    What little nursing experience I have is in corrections; but have had the opportunity to witness patient abuse, primarily verbal, perpetrated by ER nurses.

    In corrections, it was easy to delineate attitudes as behaviors of nurses that resulted in some returning to the nurses station ready to continue providing patient care, and those that needed a change of clothing because they were wearing the contents of a bed pan.

    It always amazed me that when a male inmate was denied a prn Tylenol for pain; he was self-proclaiming. If a female inmate requested a prn pain med; well, you administered that; she wasn't self proclaiming; she was "empowering" herself

    In short, a nurses arrogant and condescending attitude is responsible for most ER incidents...

  3. Gravatar for Hank

    I believe Mike when he says the little nursing experience he has is in corrections, on both accounts; the "little" nursing experience and it being "in corrections." And I also believe that he has witnessed verbal patient abuse at the hands of some ER nurses. BUT... his last statement shows his lack of experience in ER nursing. I have been in both EMS (21 years as Paramedic, 25 years overall) and ER (nurse for 22 years; yes there is some overlap) and have been the victim of both verbal and physical assault. I have also had several co-workers who have suffered the same. I can say without question that MOST ER incidents are not caused by the nurses' attitudes, but by stressed out pts and family members who are so focused on their own wants or needs that they cannot or will not consider the results of their actions prior to commiting them, verbal or otherwise. I do not doubt Mike's sincerity; after all I am a nurse and am trained to accept things at face value until given reason to think otherwise. But upon putting on my critical thinking cap (which I always keep in my back pocket or my vest) I know that his limited ER experience has kept him from seeing many of the abuses to nursng staff that take place on a daily basis in most ERs, many of which go unreported as they are excused by "Oh, he/she is a mental pt" or "he/she is just high or drunk" or "he/she is so worried about their family member." None of which give anyone the right to take it out on the nurse or any other staff member.

    The last physical assault I experienced went to trial 3 months ago. During the trial, the defendant (who was pregnant and on meth at the time of the assault) asked me "Didn't you expect to have to deal with patients who were drunk or high and not acting like themselves when you took your job?" My reply was "Yes, but I did not expect to be assaulted by them. When you willingly take any substance that can alter your behavior, you have to take the responsibility for the results of that altered behavior." The judge agreed with me and quoted me when she found the defendant guilty.

  4. Gravatar for Ray

    Unlike Virginia, Washington State took what I would call a "Serious" approach several years ago and made the assault or battery of a health care worker a class C felony, same as if they were assaulting or battering a police officer. I can't say that I really saw any difference in the amount of the violence. If anything, it has gotten more frequent and more violent.

    I have been a RN for 41 years now with most of my time spent in ER, Critical Care and EMS transports. The hospital/health care areas used to be safe places. What happened? I think there is much mor to this than just drugs or alcohol.

  5. Gravatar for Barbara

    Having spent 39 years in nursing,(research,ICU, clinical, overseas and the past several years in ED),a critical contributing cause of violence in the ED is a demanding, spoiled, entitled society/culture that is uneducated regarding what actually constitutes an emergency and that "first come" is not necessarily "first served." Everyone is worthy of a medical screening exam. Triage and ESI scores dictate fast track verses main placement and "fast track" can be a misnomer depending on time of year,day of the week and lunar calendar. Treating more clients with less resources is reality. Expectations can be refined by communicating, but NEVER is verbal or physical abuse acceptable or to be tolerated.

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