OHS Canada Magazine

Nurses union lobbies for change following attack

January 27, 2014

Health & Safety Health & Safety Health care Violence in the Workplace

(Canadian OH&S News)

(Canadian OH&S News)

The New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) is calling for action against continuing violence against workers in the healthcare sector, after a recent incident at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

On Jan. 13, a patient assaulted several employees of the facility during an altercation in the hospital’s neurointensive care unit. Three registered nurses (RNs) required treatment in the emergency room following the attack.

Subsequent news reports have suggested that a fourth nurse and a doctor had also been injured in the melee, and that the assailant had been safely restrained by the time police arrived.

The incident triggered a public response from the NBNU, which had already confronted Horizon Health — the organization that runs the hospital — about violence and security issues in the past.


“It’s been a bit of an ongoing issue at the Saint John Regional Hospital in particular,” said NBNU president Marilyn Quinn. “We’ve had concerns around their protocols and policies in terms of their response teams, the education for people on it, the debriefings, all sorts of things.”

According to Quinn, violence against nurses is a serious problem that has been severely underreported and not taken seriously in the past. “For many years, nurses were told, ‘That’s just part of the job.’ You got pushed, you got shoved, sometimes you got bitten. And it happens every day,” she said. “Every month, there are reports of people who got bitten by patients, kicked, punched.”

About 30% of N.B. nurses physically abused

More than 30 per cent of RNs in New Brunswick have suffered physical abuse at work, and nearly 42 per cent have undergone emotional abuse, Statistics Canada has reported.

“What we’re trying to alert nurses to is that this behaviour’s unacceptable. And employers have an onus to provide a safe environment, not just for the patients we care for, but also for the staff that looks after them,” said Quinn, adding that the blame for incidents should not be placed on nurses.

“This isn’t caused because somebody didn’t talk to somebody nicely,” she said.

A source with Horizon told COHSN that the organization was planning a post-analysis, in which it would review the hospital’s security procedures and processes.

Quinn said that she was planning to meet with the senior executive of Horizon to inquire about the Jan. 13 incident. The NBNU wants to know whether the hospital was following proper safety policies, why police weren’t called, whether the injured nurses had the opportunity to press charges and whether the patient had been screened properly for potential risk.

At present, New Brunswick and Quebec are the only provinces that don’t have any specific workplace violence prevention legislation. The NBNU has written to the New Brunswick government in the past, asking for violence to be considered a workplace hazard.


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