We know from our research that health care providers are victims of violence at an increasing rate. National studies show that 48 per cent of all non-fatal injuries from occupational assaults and violent acts occur in health care and social service settings. This fact is extremely alarming to us, since nurses were identified as the most likely of all health care workers to be assaulted. Unfortunately, many nurses have come to accept violence as a routine part of the job. I find this ironic because when people think of violent or dangerous jobs, nursing isn’t usually the first one to come to mind. The fact is, however, that nurses often experience a greater degree of workplace violence than police officers and other protective service personnel.

The other unfortunate reality is that nurses often work in environments where they are not supported when they do report violent incidents. If a nurse is made to feel as though such incidents are not serious, it is unlikely that the nurse will report future violent incidents.

This is especially problematic because violence against nurses affects their physical and emotional health. If the violence continues it can impact the quality of patient care and patient outcomes. In some cases violence can influence a nurse’s decision to leave their job, or worse – leave the nursing profession. We knew that something had to be done and the sooner the better. We called upon the government to strengthen health and safety regulations since the current policy did not give adequate support to health care workers. I’m pleased to report that the government responded favourably. The Manitoba Nurses Union, in cooperation with the Manitoba Council of Health Care Unions, worked with the provincial government to develop a violence free workplace strategy, with changes being implemented by the end of August 2011. In addition to the prominent placement of violence and abuse free signage in all health care facilities across the province, the policy requires: • all health care facilities to develop a violence prevention policy and strategy; • a procedure for summoning immediate assistance procedure for flagging potentionally violent individuals; and • a system for reporting and reviewing incidents I will be co-chairing an advisory committee on staff safety and security in health facilities, which will create a permanent ongoing process to review workplace security issues broadly in health care. The committee will also monitor the implementation of violence prevention programs, incident investigation, tracking and follow-up as well as identifying new initiatives to strengthen safety and security for all health workers. We appreciate the ongoing commitment from the Manitoba government to seek nurses’ advice on improving the work environment and improving care for patients across the health care system and look forward to working with them. We should never accept violence as a routine part of our work and I believe that these legislative amendments are a significant step in dealing with the growing issue of workplace violence. Sandi Mowat is President of the Manitoba Nurses Union