The 'dangers' of working in health care: Abuse, bullying

Workplace harm can create frustration, burnout

Health workers who experience psychological or physical harm in the workplace often become frustrated, burned out, and error prone, according to a report from the Lucian Leape Institute that identifies seven strategies to improve health care workplace safety.

The 11-member institute this week issued a call to action on safety, urging health care employers to protect their employees from a "culture of fear and intimidation that saps joy and meaning from work." According to the report, workers in the health care industry face higher rates of physical harm than workers in other industries. 

Some of that harm—both physical and psychological—may come from coworkers.

In one example cited by the report, a physician reportedly grabbed a labor and delivery nurse by the throat, warning her to never question him again in the delivery room. While the physician was briefly suspended and underwent an anger management program, the nurse feared for her future safety and ended up transferring to a different department.

Moreover, "[d]isrespectful treatment of workers increases the risk of patient injury," the report says.

To foster a culture of safety, the Lucian Leape report recommends that employers adopt these seven strategies:

    1. Develop core values of civility and mutual respect that are shared from the boardroom to the front lines;
    2. Adopt an explicit target to eliminate harm in the workplace;
    3. Foster evidence-based management skills for reliability to foster a highly disciplined organization with demonstrated, reliable performance;
    4. Establish a way to capture data, performance metrics, and accountability;
    5. Create a system to improve and learn from mistakes;
    6. Regularly celebrate accomplishments of the workforce with high visibility; and
    7. Support industry-wide research to examine conditions that are harming the workforce and patients.

"The basic precondition of a safe workplace is protection of the physical and psychological safety of the workforce," says Paul O'Neill, a Lucian Leape member and a former U.S. Treasury Secretary. "Most health care organizations have done little to support the common contention that 'people are our most important asset,'" he adds (McKinney, Modern Healthcare, 3/4 [subscription required]; Rodak, Becker's Hospital Review, 3/4).


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