Occupational violence is never ok

One of our key health and safety priorities is the level of violence in our workplaces.

It’s an issue that has been on the QNMU radar for more than a decade and we’ve supported many an inquiry, lobbied for changes in workplace practices, published information for members and decision-makers, and of course supported members standing up for their rights to work in a safe environment.

But as the problem has grown, particularly in terms of alcohol drug-induced aggression, there is a real need for a multi-layered approach to protecting nurses from violence at work .

We need an approach that considers everything from training, security standards and models of care to response teams, reporting and workplace design.

This is why the QNMU has been working with government and other stakeholders to address the issue.

Some of our recent activity includes:

Lockout legislation

Nurses and midwives are often at the frontline of dealing with victims or perpetrators of alcohol-related incidences, so we had no hesitation raising our voice as the Queensland government considered laws that could reduce alcohol fuelled street violence.

The laws, among other things included stopping the service of alcohol at 2am, 1am lockouts and banning the sale of high alcohol, rapid consumption drinks (shots) after midnight.

In our submission to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee considering the Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Amendment Bill in December last year we welcomed the laws, noting that addition to treating the victims and perpetrators of alcohol-fuelled violence, nurses themselves were often at the receiving end of alcohol-fuelled aggression from the very same people or indeed their friends and family.

The new laws were eventually passed in February 2016 and most of the measures came into effect a few months later on 1 July. 

State campaign targets occupational violence

In 2016 the state government launched a public awareness campaign highlighting violence against nurses and other health workers.

The campaign stems from a Freedom of Information request for records detailing occupational violence incidents and Workers’ Compensation Claims for four Queensland hospitals between 1 July 2012 and 1 July 2015.

Information revealed 2695 incidents of verbal and physical assaults, 251 of which resulted in a Workers’ Compensation Claim. The majority of both incidents and claims came from nurses.

We promoted the campaign through our member publications and social media.

Encouraging a strategic approach

QNU has long argued that a more strategic focus is needed to address the violence experienced by nurses and other health workers.

So we welcomed the news this year that the Queensland Health had committed to looking into our call for strategy and through the Queensland Health Corporate Safety and Wellbeing Unit had engaged with Griffith University to conduct research around occupational violence management in healthcare to provide the basis for an evidence-based response.

Occupational Violence Taskforce

We were particularly pleased to be invited to be part of a working party to provide recommendations to both the Health Minister and the Director General of Health regarding a strategic response.

The Occupational Violence Taskforce met several times and hosted a state wide forum in late March 2016.

A few of the key talking points were:

  • how zero tolerance policy imperatives are frequently watered down in the real world of clinical practice
  • the adequacy of current post-incident management processes, including investigation, follow-up, and support for an assaulted worker
  • the need to consider environmental design – particularly the security issues around single rooms.

While the taskforce identified some positive measures around reducing exposure to violence, incident management, and post-assault support, we remain concerned that due to the current management structure, there is no mechanism to ensure all HHSs adopt the taskforce’s recommendations.

We believe the Department of Health needs to integrate legislation, policies, and procedures and apply an anti-violence mandate across all health disciplines while management must demonstrate a strong commitment to changing the workplace culture, in part by empowering staff to expect a safe workplace.