Workplace safety in healthcare during Covid 19

General 27 july 2020  - Roel Ruiken

An easy mistake to make is to panic during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic, or Coronavirus if you will, causes enormous strain and pressure. People are worrying about the wellbeing and safety of themselves and relatives. What exactly is this new virus? Will it affect me or my loved ones? Will I be able to maintain my job? The virus causes a lot of uncertainty in the world and consequently creates a lot of stress. Tensions are running high. When people are confronted with such kind of stress, they seem to react in unusual ways to ordinary situations. This could include resorting to more aggressive behaviour or violence.

More information? BVC - SOAS-R

Television stations broadcasted barbaric scenes of people arguing and even fighting with each other because of disrespecting their personal space and the possible transmission of the virus. People were concerned about shortages of essential items, no pasta, toilet paper or painkillers were to be found in grocery stores and supermarkets at the end of the day, forcing government leaders to kindly ask people not to stock such items. Incidents of violence are increasing despite pleas from local and national leaders for calm and understanding.

While a number of countries finally reporting lower daily death tolls, numerous countries worldwide are still in lockdown and residents are reaching a breaking point. It’s not just the fear of catching the virus. The fear of unemployment, the fear of isolation, the fear of the unknown. All these things together cause very high stress levels.

The healthcare sector is in the centre of attention now. Every day we see leading virologists, nurses physicians and researchers in the news talking about the Coronavirus and the new insights. On the one hand it seems as if people worldwide have more respect for the work people do in healthcare. Actions to thank those people go viral and nurses all of a sudden are called heroes. In this sector hard work is common, but now we see people getting overworked, stressed or simply overwhelmed with what they have to face because of the Coronavirus. On the other hand hospital visitors (some as patients) are told that some appointments in hospital will be postponed because of the Coronavirus.  Staff members at hospitals and health clinics reported being abused by frustrated people waiting in long lines. 

Decisionmakers in healthcare must prepare to respond to workplace violence. During stressful times it is even more important to implements its workplace violence program or to focus on how to achieve more workplace safety. Employees need to feel safe at work. Luckily on all levels (governmental, sectoral, company level and individual level) there are numerous acts, organisations, policies and even specific frameworks that deal with workplace safety. 

In the US for example, they created ‘OSHA’, which is part of the United States Department of Labour and stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is created to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. They even emphasized on healthcare.

In England they have so called Nice guidelines, these are evidence-based recommendations for health and care in England. They set out the care and services suitable for most people with a specific condition or need, and people in particular circumstances or settings. Nice guidelines help health and social care professionals to: prevent ill health.

The BVC or the Bröset Violence Checklist is probably the most tested framework that will address warning signs that may precede workplace violence. Although the framework originates from psychiatry there is a lot of anecdotal feedback that it works perfectly in almost any other sector or setting. Together with an on-going training on how to handle aggressive patients and teach employees effective conflict resolution strategies and how to respond in the face of escalating violence.

The Staff Observation Aggression Scale – Revised, or the SOAS-R is a leading framework to register aggressive incidents. Especially now it is wise to register all aggressive incidents. After comprehensive analysis one can improve policies that might differ as a result of the higher stress levels that are increasing by Covid 19.

So the world finds itself in a stressful situation, which puts the healthcare sector in the spotlight. This sector can only handle so much and therefor existing (governmental) bodies, ideas or frameworks will help not to panic. One can use existing knowledge to make sure the increase of aggressive incidents due to the coronavirus and the stress it causes is managed in the best way possible.

More information? BVC - SOAS-R

General 27 july 2020  - Roel Ruiken
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