Nursing workplace safety back to health

Nurses’ union fights for stricter safeguards against violence

The New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) is struggling to nurse the province’s workplace safety policies back to health. The union is doubling down on its efforts to implement a comprehensive safety policy in every health-care facility in the province following an increase in violent incidents.

"We know that registered nurses can’t deliver care if their own personal safety is in jeopardy," said Marilyn Quinn, president of the NBNU. "Nobody wants nurses or health-care workers to be subject to violence, and yet we haven’t taken the necessary steps to make sure it’s prevented or reduced to the absolute minimum."

An incident at the Saint John Regional Hospital earlier this year highlights the need for reform, Quinn said.

Several nurses and a doctor were assaulted by a patient on Jan. 13. A "Code White" was called — standard procedure when staff determine there is an immediate physical threat to themselves and others — and police were called to the scene. The resulting injuries were largely soft-tissue in nature, including cuts and bruising.

The union called the incident predictable and preventable.

"The policies that are there, currently, we just don’t feel are effective," Quinn said. "They don’t go far enough. They’re not all-encompassing. I think the employer has made some effort but what we’ve seen is an increase of violent assaults against registered nurses in the workplace."

In order to combat that increase, Quinn said, the province’s two regional health authorities need to implement an overall policy that would cover all of New Brunswick.

Currently, safety policies differ at each facility. Even sharing the same regional health authority is no guarantee of consistency, Quinn said.

"We want to make sure we have the best practices in place and that everyone can benefit from those," she said. "We would hope that would be consistent and not based on whether you’re fortunate enough to work at a certain facility."

Vitalité Health Network and Horizon Health Network are the two regional health authorities providing health services in the province. The health authorities need to take a stand on their workers’ behalf to change the culture and make employee safety as much a priority as patient safety, the NBNU said.

The most recent survey from Statistics Canada reports that of the 6,900 registered nurses in the province, 30 per cent have suffered physical abuse on the job. More than 40 per cent reported being emotionally abused at work.

"Even nurses admit that they’ve accepted it as part of the job," Quinn said of the abuse. "We’re trying to move to a place where it’s unacceptable."

WorkSafeNB spokesperson Marc Angers said the organization has been working for the past two years to improve workplace safety within the province’s health-care system.

It has worked with employers and employees to recognize hazards and introduce prevention policies into the workplace. WorkSafeNB plans to continue assisting the health authorities as they develop stronger health and safety programs, Angers said.

"It’s a lot of work," he said. "And moving forward our role is to provide assistance."

Carola Hicks-Mittag — owner and CEO of the Workplace Safety Group — said involving health-care workers in the process can only strengthen the resulting policy.

"Speaking to the people in the trenches, that’s where you’re going to get the best information and the most heartfelt input," said Hicks-Mittag, whose business specializes in the creation and maintenance of workplace safety programs.

"You have to speak to the people who are actually dealing with these cases," she said.

The NBNU said the health-care workers at the heart of this case want to see concrete change. New Brunswick is one of the only provinces in Canada without specific workplace violence prevention legislation, and Quinn said nurses aren’t willing to wait any longer.

In November of 2006, nurse Lori Dupont was murdered by her former lover, anesthesiologist Dr. Marc Daniel, at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont., where they both worked. Outrage over the incident prompted Ontario to enact Bill 168, commonly known as the Lori Dupont Bill.

Effective June 15, 2010, the bill requires employers in Ontario to protect employees from workplace violence.

"We were all very aware of what happened in Ontario and even then the legislation came about four years later," Quinn said. "Does somebody have to die before we move to the point of putting in the proper legislation?"

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