Workplace violence in a large correctional health servce in New South Wales, Australia: a retrospective review of incident management records
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BackgroundLittle is known about workplace violence among correctional health professionals. This studyaimed to describe the patterns, severity and outcomes of incidents of workplace violenceamong employees of a large correctional health service, and to explore the help-seekingbehaviours of staff following an incident.MethodsThe study setting was Justice Health, a statutory health corporation established to providehealth care to people who come into contact with the criminal justice system in New SouthWales, Australia. We reviewed incident management records describing workplace violenceamong Justice Health staff. The three-year study period was 1/7/2007-30/6/2010.ResultsDuring the period under review, 208 incidents of workplace violence were recorded. Verbalabuse (71%) was more common than physical abuse (29%). The most (44%) incidents ofworkplace violence (including both verbal and physical abuse) occurred in adult maleprisons, although the most (50%) incidents of physical abuse occurred in a forensic hospital.Most (90%) of the victims were nurses and two-thirds were females. Younger employees andmales were most likely to be a victim of physical abuse. Preparing or dispensing medicationand attempting to calm and/or restrain an aggressive patient were identified as ‘high risk’work duties for verbal abuse and physical abuse, respectively. Most (93%) of the incidents ofworkplace violence were initiated by a prisoner/patient. Almost all of the incidents receivedeither a medium (46%) or low (52%) Severity Assessment Code. Few victims of workplaceviolence incurred a serious physical injury – there were no workplace deaths during the studyperiod. However, mental stress was common, especially among the victims of verbal abuse(85%). Few (6%) victims of verbal abuse sought help from a health professional.ConclusionsAmong employees of a large correctional health service, verbal abuse in the workplace wassubstantially more common than physical abuse. The most incidents of workplace violenceoccurred in adult male prisons. Review of the types of adverse health outcomes experiencedby the victims of workplace violence and the assessments of severity assigned to violentincidents suggests that, compared with health care settings in the community, correctionalsettings are fairly safe places in which to practice.
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