Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workplace abuse in health care a growing and costly issue, says nurses’ union

Healthcare worker sits on the floor after facing abuse
A new national report documents the dramatic cost of workplace violence suffered by nurses in both human and financial terms.

According to the report authored by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), 61 per cent of surveyed nurses say they have experienced abuse, harassment or assault in the workplace in the past 12 months, As a result of these incidents, Canadian nurses are more likely to experience burn-out, show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), require time off for recovery or leave the profession entirely. They estimate the annual cost of lost work time resulting from related illness or disability to be $989 million in 2016.

“It’s a pressure cooker out there for nurses on the front line. Higher patient populations, greater patient acuity and increased workloads are all on the rise, and the quality of care is declining. Violence is a symptom of an unhealthy work environment,” explains CFNU president Linda Silas. And an unhealthy work environment “hurts not only the worker, but it hurts our health-care system”, adds Silas.

To make her point, Silas also invokes Justice Archie Campbell, who led Ontario’s Commission of Inquiry into the SARS tragedy, more than a decade ago. “If workers are not protected from health and safety hazards, patients and the public are not protected either,” Campbell observed.

Here in Ontario 54 per cent of Ontario nurses reported experiencing physical abuse; 85 per cent experienced verbal abuse, and 19 per cent experienced sexual violence or abuse, says the CFNU report.

Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) lost-time claims statistics also demonstrate health care workers experience significantly more violence related injuries than those employed in fields often perceived to be more dangerous. In 2016, for example, there were 808 lost-time injuries owing to workplace violence in the health care sector in Ontario, compared with 138 in manufacturing, 13 in construction and 0 in mining.

Similarly, a 2015 study by WorksafeBC found nurses were the victims of more than 40 per cent of all violent workplace injuries in British Columbia during the prior decade, followed by law enforcement workers with 14 per cent.

The CFNU report follows a national survey on the work and health of nurses released in 2005 by Statistics Canada and Health Canada. Then, nearly 30 per cent of nurses said they were assaulted by a patient and close to 44 per cent suffered emotional abuse from a patient over the previous 12 months.

Silas observes violence is an occupational health and safety hazard recognized in all provincial health and safety laws with the exception of New Brunswick. Among the CFNU’s report recommendations is a call for “meaningful and consistent enforcement and reporting” of these laws and Criminal Code provisions. Further the nurses’ union calls for better prevention through workplace assessments, training and emergency preparedness.
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers a range of resources including a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Training program designed to help workplace parties better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying and to fully comply with legal obligations.
Want to read CFNU’s report “Enough is Enough: Putting a Stop to violence in the Health Care Sector”?
Want to access WHSC violence and harassment resources and other related news items?
To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative.