Three in 10 faced physical violence, majority have been harassed: surveyADAM BOWIE THE DAILY GLEANER
About three of every 10 New Brunswick nurses has been slapped, punched, kicked, pinched or otherwise abused while carrying out their daily duties, according to the results of a provincewide survey conducted by the New Brunswick Nurses Union.
The survey also says 73 per cent of nurses have reported being verbally abused or harassed on the job.
Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said the union conducted an internal poll of its members last fall, asking them to report whether or not they’ve ever experienced workplace violence or harassment on the job.
About 400 members were randomly surveyed; 54 per cent said they’d experienced some form of workplace violence or harassment. When the union saw how high the numbers were, it decided to expand the survey, opening the process to every nurse in the province.
“We had just over a 10-per-cent response rate, with 779 nurses responding. Of those 779, 513 reported having experienced some form of workplace violence in 2016,” she said.
“The numbers were quite alarming – 73 per cent had identified being a victim of harassment or verbal abuse, which is up by 32 per cent from a 2005 survey from Stats Canada. It’s a key concern for us if violence in the workplace is on the rise in New Brunswick.”
She said 27 per cent of the respondents reported physical abuse while working in New Brunswick hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes in 2016.
“Nurses are spat on, hit, grabbed, pinched, bitten. There’s no end to what a nurse, or many other health-care professionals, face,” she said.
“And, predominantly, nurses are a female workforce. So we’re seen as a very vulnerable workforce. It’s got to stop.”
The union has called upon the provincial government to bolster the legislative protections within the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Doucet says New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that does not have occupational health & safety legislation to recognize workplace violence as an occupational hazard.
“We’ve been doing some good work with [both of New Brunswick’s regional health authorities], as well as the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes,” she said.
“We’re very fortunate to have employers who are willing to work with us, and who recognize the value of safe workplaces. But since we’re the only province in Canada that doesn’t have this type of legislation, we’re asking the government to step up and make these legislative changes. If our employers weren’t willing to work with us, they’d have no obligation to do this.”
It may be hard to believe, she said, but nurses are at a higher risk of being attacked at work than police officers or prison guards.
“People go into an emergency department, they get frustrated with the wait times, and who do you think is the first person they’re going to direct their frustration at?” she said.
“Nobody deserves to be yelled at, or verbally abused, for something that’s out of their control. People think it’s OK. Nurses, over the years, have felt it’s part of their job to take it. Well, it’s not part of the job.”
What should be really concerning for government, said Doucet, is the fact that many nurses are hesitant to report the incidents of violence they experience, which means these numbers are likely lower than the real total.
“They often feel like nothing is going to be done. But we’ve been telling our members that it’s imperative that they do report all the incidents they experience,” she said.
Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Donald Arseneault said his department recently completed a review of the legislation used by other jurisdictions and staff is developing a policy paper for the government’s consideration.
“While New Brunswick does not have specific workplace violence legislation, in all jurisdictions across the country, including New Brunswick, human rights legislation prohibits discrimination-based violence and harassment in the workplace, and places a duty to prevent and manage it on the employer,” he said in an emailed statement.
“The “general duty clause” in New Brunswick’s Occupational Health and Safety Act requires all employers to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the health and safety of employees. Employers’ duties are not limited to those specified in the Act, and a broad interpretation of this duty includes minimizing the risk of violence, as well as addressing the risks associated with tools, equipment, machines, devices and materials.”
Progressive Conservative health critic Brian Macdonald says he supports the legislative changes requested, noting that his mother is a nurse and he’s long been aware of the challenges she and her colleagues face on the job.
“It’s something we should really seriously look at, especially given the results of this survey,” he said.
“Government needs to pay attention. This study has really made it clear that this needs to be an area of focus. I’d be really keen to work with them to try to advance this legislative change.”