Medical Waste Industry Insights

Understanding Workplace Violence in the Healthcare and Social Service Sector

By David Ryan

While many of us don’t like to think about violence in the workplace, it’s important to recognize the unsettling trends that have emerged in the last decade or so among workers in the healthcare and social services sector. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of these trends and what they mean -- then you can decide if it’s a good time to ask, “Is my organization taking the right steps to mitigate the occurrence of workplace violence?”

Defining Workplace Violence

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as violent acts that are directed toward persons at work or on duty.1 These acts range from verbal assaults and threats to physical assaults to homicide. However it manifests itself, workplace violence can potentially affect both employers and employees nationwide.

Increasing Incidences of Workplace Violence

According to data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)2, workplace violence is a substantial threat to those in healthcare and social service settings. Consider the following statistics from the last decade:

  • Between 2011 and 2013, workplace assaults ranged from 23,540 and 25,630 annually, with nearly three-quarters of incidents occurring in healthcare and social service settings.
  • More than one-quarter of fatalities that occurred in 2013 were due to work-related assaults and violent acts.
  • Between 1993 and 2009, healthcare workers had a 20% overall higher rate of workplace violence than all other workers.
  • Workplace violence in medical occupations represents 10.2% of all workplace violence incidents, although the actual percentage could be much higher as many incidents may be unreported.

The Severity of Workplace Violence

While media attention tends to focus on reports of workplace homicides, the vast majority of workplace violence incidents result in non-fatal yet serious injuries.

Additionally, BLS data shows that the majority of injuries from assaults at work that required professionals to take days away from work occurred in the healthcare and social services settings.

In 2013, the number of the assaults involving days away from work was between 13 to 36 per 10,000 workers at healthcare and social assistance facilities. By comparison, the days away from work due to violence for the private sector as a whole, in 2013, were reported to be about only 3 per 10,000 full-time workers.

Furthermore, for healthcare workers, assaults comprise of 10-11 percent of workplace injuries involving days away from work, as compared to just 3 percent of injuries of all private sector employees.

For additional context, consider this: healthcare workers are about as likely or more likely than prison guards to experience days off from work due to injuries caused by work-related violence.

What Can We Do About It?

The first step is awareness. Knowing the facts mentioned here can help mobilize both employers and employees to take steps toward prevention. Compliance is also key -- understanding OSHA and NIOSH standards and guidelines on workplace safety, for example, can lessen the number of incidents that occur.

If you’re interested in learning the steps you can take to create a culture of safety and quality at your organization, (from training to record-keeping to follow-up), don’t miss our related blog, Healthcare Alert: Is Your Organization Putting Workers at Risk?


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1 CDC/NIOSH. Violence. Occupational Hazards in Hospitals. 2002.
2 Cited in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Workplace Violence, 1993-2009 National Crime Victimization Survey and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. March 2011. (
Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers

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