Recently, UPSE conducted a workplace violence survey of Resident Care Workers, Patient Care Workers and Licensed Practical Nurses who work in the health system. The results were alarming but not surprising: 90% of these front-line health care workers have experienced violence in the workplace. This includes physical violence (hitting, biting, pushing, kicking, etc.), verbal abuse (swearing, threats, name calling and yelling) and sexual harassment.  

The violence which health care workers experience most often comes from the clients they are providing care for.  Many of these clients are experiencing dementia at an earlier age and are physically stronger.  Further, there is now less emphasis placed on restraint protocols (including medication) in acute care, long term care and home care environments.             

The survey asked workers about how to reduce workplace violence in health facilities.  The most frequent responses indicated that more staff is required, appropriate medication should be used, and workers need more training.  The results also showed that front-line health care workers do not feel supported by management with 86% reporting that their employer does not do enough to prevent violence in their workplace.

I have met with representatives of government and Health PEI to discuss the results of the survey.  Workplace violence is not acceptable and there has to be changes made within the health care system to deal with this serious issue.  These changes must happen now before any more of our members are injured.

The survey asked those who had seen or experienced workplace violence whether they thought the incident could have been prevented - 74% believed the incident was preventable.  In other words, workplace violence is not simply a given and in many instances it can be prevented through improved workplace health and safety.

My message has always been that the  provision of a safe workplace is ultimately the employer’s responsibility. Our members are working in unsafe worksites and are facing violent clients without the resources required to provide a safe working environment, not only for our members, but for the other clientele living in these facilities. Workplace violence is a complex issue; however, the bottom line is that no one should have to go to work on a daily basis expecting to be assaulted. This issue affects front-line health care workers, patients and residents, and their families.  Workplace violence is not “part of the job” and it’s time for change!        

Karen Jackson, President PEI UPSE