Throughout Canada, violent incidents and acts of aggression towards health care workers are escalating in frequency and severity. Workers are being hit, kicked, and verbally abused by patients, their families, and visitors. Health care workers describe violent events as daily occurrences — with some so serious that they require medical treatment or time off work, leaving workers with a range of physical or psychological issues.

In Ontario alone, violence-related incidents made up 10 percent of all lost-time injury claims in hospitals and cost employers an estimated $23 million in 2015. The true figures are likely even more shocking as violent incidents are found to be severely underreported. This is associated with the normalization of violence among frontline workers, and the belief that it’s simply “part of the job.”

In response, the Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA) launched The online platform employs an interactive framework that provides health care workplaces with a scalable and consensus-based approach to building a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. Included are five interactive toolkits and assessments which were developed in collaboration with provincial ministries, unions, professional associations, and other key stakeholders.

Thus far, 112 Ontario hospitals and health care organizations are actively using the digital tools to identify gaps and implement action plans. The online platform facilitates access for employers to gather the right data and access information and expert guidance that would otherwise involve costly consulting fees and lengthy timelines. “We have been able to engage staff in every department, and the tools have allowed us to really gain a more in-depth understanding of staff perceptions and concerns when it comes to violence and harassment in the workplace,” explains Jeff LeBlanc, Workplace Health & Safety Officer at Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance.

Users have found the tool to be consistent and user-friendly, allowing them to determine where best to allocate resources to address the issue. “The online assessments are comprehensive, ranging from a broad corporate view of workplace violence prevention programs and policies, right down to how many lights we had in our parking lot,” says Lana LeClair, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Kemptville District Hospital. “The results are broken down by department, with a list of possible mitigation practices provided to address the gaps — you can choose the ones most appropriate to your situation, so you’re not starting from scratch.”

“Violence against nurses and other health care workers can no longer be considered as part of the job”, stresses Vicki McKenna, President of the Ontario Nurses Association. “PSHSA has done a great job developing practical toolkits to enable employers to assess risk and prevent further workplace violence. We applaud the progressive hospital CEOs who have already committed to using these tools.” Though the resources were built for Ontario, two additional provinces are currently testing the tools to evaluate their effectiveness.

By identifying risks and providing health care organizations with a clear vision of where they need to go, this innovative approach is making major strides in addressing a systemic issue in health care, and it represents a prime example of how we can address health and safety issues using technology and digital tools.

Henrietta Van Hulle is a registered nurse and currently the Executive Director of Health & Community Services at the Public Services Health & Safety Association. She holds a Masters of Health Services Management, and specializes in infection prevention and control, workplace violence prevention, and disability management.