Why nurses must know how to protect themselves


Violence at work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in the year 2000, “health service workers overall had an incidence rate of 9.3 for injuries [per 10,000 full-time workers] resulting from assaults and violent acts. The rate for social service workers was 15, and for nursing and personal care facility workers, 25. This compares to an overall private sector injury rate of 2.”

Some of the contributing factors to workplace attacks on nurses include:

  • Easy availability of weapons
  • Presence of drugs and valuables in the hospital
  • Long waits in emergency rooms
  • Low levels of staffing
  • Insufficient security measures (broken no locks, few security guards)
  • Poorly lit parking lots

Also, as saddening as it is to think of, workplace violence isn’t always from a patient, relative or criminal off the street. It’s sometimes peer to peer.

If you think your workplace is unsafe

There is never a good excuse to attack a nurse, regardless of how much pain someone is in or how long he has been waiting. Unfortunately, violence still happens. Today’s world of self-entitlement and instant gratification doesn’t help matters. And while violence is possible anywhere in the hospital system, emergency room nurses are at the forefront.

If you think your workplace is unsafe, it’s time to take action. The first step is to approach administration about instituting a no-violence policy, with the rules and expectations posted throughout the facility for everyone—staff and visitors—to see. If there is already a no-violence policy, it should be renewed, updated and—again—posted for everyone.

Steps to take for your own safety involve common sense and listening to your gut. If you’re in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, here are some tips:

  • Report all incidents that you feel could have led to violence, even if they did not end violently.
  • Try not to have anyone between you and the doorway or any escape route.
  • Don’t turn your back on someone you are concerned about.
  • Don’t escalate the situation by engaging in an argument. It’s better to be alive than right.
  • If you have a hospital phone or cell phone, keep it in your hand.
  • If you must go into a patient’s room or an area where you don’t feel comfortable, have someone accompany you.

What to do if you’re attacked

The important thing to remember is that you need to GET OUT OF THERE.

Whatever you do, be it scream, fight or hit, these are only tools to use to give yourself enough time to run as fast and as far away as you can.

Whether you’re attacked in the hospital or clinic, or outside while running errands, here are some YouTube videos that show simple techniques that may help you get out of trouble.

Have you ever had someone grab your forearm or wrist and you couldn’t get away? Whether it’s an obnoxious guy at a party or an attacker, there’s a fairly simple technique called the Wrist Grab Release that helps you get your arm back and you away from the other person.

What if someone grabs you by your shirt or lapel of your jacket? That may be a bit tougher to break away from, but there is also a technique for this. Try practicing with someone (without the actual pressure!) until you feel comfortable with the movements it would take.

We’ve all been told that if you need to fight to get away from someone, you need to strike the weak points, called Vital Point Striking. This involves hitting the eyes, ears, nose, throat, genital area or the knee—all of which can cause considerable pain, giving you enough time to run.

Here are five more videos for you to learn various self-defense techniques:

8 steps of conflict avoidance

What to do if both wrists are grabbed

What to do if your hair is grabbed from the front

What to do if you’re grabbed by the waist from behind

What to do if someone gets you in a choke hold from behind

The most important thing to do is to make as much noise and as much of a fuss as you can. The attacker doesn’t want attention from anyone except you. It’s been said that if you yell “Fire!” you may get more help than if you shout anything else. But before this, it’s important to work on prevention. The goal is to never need these techniques.

Marijke Durning
Marijke is a professional writer who began her working career as a registered nurse over 25 years ago. After working in clinical areas ranging from rehab to intensive care, as a floor nurse to a supervisor, she found she could combine her extensive health knowledge with her love of writing. Although she has been published in a wide variety of publications for professionals and the general public, her passion is writing for the every day person to promote health literacy.

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