Violence against nurses is on the rise, but protections remain weak.

Two recent violent episodes against nurses in emergency departments have again highlighted the issue of inadequate protections for nursing staff.

In both cases the nurses, from Wyong Hospital on the central coast of NSW and The Royal Melbourne Hospital in Victoria, were held hostage by knife-wielding patients. These cases seem extreme, but they are not isolated.

Nurses are exposed to high levels of physical and verbal violence, to the point where this has become an expected and even accepted part of their job.

In 1999, the Australian Institute of Criminology ranked the health industry as the most violent workplace in the country. According to US statistics, health-care workers are five to 12 times more likely than other workers to experience violence in the workplace.

Worldwide, nurses are more likely to be attacked at work than prison guards and police officers. And yet such incidents remain under-reported and existing protections are not enough to ensure the safety of nurses and their patients.

Extent of violence

Nurses are at the front line of violence in hospitals, particularly those working in emergency, aged care and mental health. The frequency and severity of violent incidents are increasing, yet such episodes remain vastly under-reported.

Government figures show the number of “code blacks” – incidents where the safety of hospital staff is threatened – is rising. By February this year, 6,245 code blacks had been reported so far for 2016-17, compared to 4,765 at the same point in 2015-16, in South Australian public hospitals.

Emergency departments have the highest incidence of violence in health care. Up to 90% of emergency department staff have experienced some type of violence in their careers. Violence covers a range of behaviours, from verbal abuse and threats through to physical violence.

Verbal abuse, especially swearing, is the most common type of violence. Nurses in emergency departments experience daily verbal abuse. Physical violence often occurs at the same time as verbal abuse and can include the use of weapons on hand – such as syringes, scalpels, scissors and furniture.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.