Nurses demand action against escalating workplace violence

Union head says creation of health sector safety council needed urgently

Nurses demand action against escalating workplace violence

Every day, nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador bravely step onto the frontlines of healthcare, but behind the scenes lies a harsh reality – a staggering number of them face injuries, both physical and psychological, due to workplace violence.

"We had an emergency room nurse assaulted, resulting in a broken nose," recalls Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses' Union Newfoundland and Labrador. She says that’s just one recent example. "This illustrates the gravity of the issue – nurses enduring physical harm while caring for others."

About 8,000 nurses work in the province, and recent data obtained from Workplace NL by CBC News revealed that about 400 nurses filed injury reports every year since 2016. "These injuries range from strains to assaults, with violence being a significant concern," says Coffey.

The healthcare and social assistance sector, predominantly occupied by female workers, experiences a 3.9% higher incidence of violence compared to other sectors in the province. "It's unacceptable that violence is almost seen as an inherent risk in healthcare," asserts Coffey. "Being intoxicated does not justify assaulting a nurse."

Coffey emphasizes the gendered nature of this violence, highlighting societal trends. "Violence against healthcare workers often reflects broader patterns of violence against women," she remarks. "We need to challenge this notion and ensure the safety of all frontline workers."

In 2019, a summit convened to address violence in healthcare, but Coffey laments the recommendations have remained dormant. "We've been calling for the creation of an independent health sector safety council," she explains. "Similar councils exist in other sectors, focusing on injury prevention and violence mitigation." They also exist in healthcare in other provinces, such as British Columbia, where Switch BC is engaged in an initiative specifically focused on training nurses in best safety practices to reduce violence against healthcare workers.

Despite discussions, tangible progress has been scarce. "We need action, not just dialogue," asserts Coffey. "Every day without meaningful intervention puts more nurses at risk."

The proposed health sector safety council aims to address these challenges comprehensively. "We need an independent body funded by employers to develop strategies for injury prevention and violence reduction," Coffey stresses. "It's about creating a culture of safety."

As discussions continue, Coffey remains resolute in her advocacy. "We can't afford to wait any longer," she declares. "The safety and well-being of nurses are paramount, and it's time for decisive action."

In the corridors of Newfoundland and Labrador's hospitals, nurses continue their tireless dedication to patient care, but behind their unwavering commitment lies a plea for a safer workplace – one where violence is not an occupational hazard.