Striving to Prevent Workplace Violence at MACS

Workplace violence in Victorian hospitals and aged care is surely a topical issue. The Victorian Government’s campaign of zero tolerance to occupational violence, created by the Department of Health and Human Services, was launched June 2017. The aim was to raise community awareness about violence against healthcare workers including nurses and to extinguish it.

And for very good reason too.  There’s been a rapid climb of the number of “code blacks” – incidents where the safety of hospital staff is threatened. Jacqui Pich reports in the Conversation. some grim statistics—6,245 code blacks reported for early 2016-17, compared to 4,765 at the same point in 2015-16, in South Australian public hospitals. Emergency departments have the highest incidence of violence in health care being that of up to 90%.

But violence covers a range of behaviours. It’s not just physical. Verbal abuse, especially swearing, is the most common type of violence. Attacks could come from fellow employees, patients/residents, family members or workplace intruders. They could threaten, hurl objects, push, shove, kick, spit, bite, racially abuse, even make sexually offensive comments or indecently assault someone else.

And certainly this campaign has some serious traction. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) participated in the Violence in Healthcare Taskforce back in 2015. This was to identify issues and make recommendations to the Health Minister Jill Hennessy on how to reduce such violence. The Victorian Auditor General’s report was based on research 95% of healthcare workers had experienced abuse.

So this type of violence is very real in healthcare settings. It’s not imagined contact.

These attacks are unleashed on nurses and aged care workers by angry people. The attackers may well be under stress. They may well be frustrated. Yet they aim it at someone who is simply doing their job. It can be a dangerous state of affairs for MACS’ staff.

All the same, suffering stress or frustration doesn’t make the violence right. It’s violence no matter how you cut it.

MACS rightly recognises that such workplace violence is not “part of the job”. MACS’ workforce is there to provide quality care for MACS’ residents and home care consumers. So not surprisingly job descriptions for MACS’ care staff don’t include any role of “punching bag” or “fall guy” for violent behaviour inflicted by others. Person- centered care is about the needs of the care recipient. It doesn’t include what is unreasonable or crossing professional boundaries. Care issues or complaints can be attended to via the well-established channels of address.

MACS keeps striving to prevent workplace violence in both residential care and home care.

There are effective controls for workplace violence already in place at MACS. They include:

  • A thorough interview process when residents are admitted;
  • A robust reporting system and state of the art care planning technology;
  • Comprehensive visitor and family code of conducts with agreements for both residential and home services;
  • A residential visitors’ log book;
  • Recognised and extensive dementia training by peak bodies;
  • Extensive emergency response training for all staff;
  • Walkways between buildings and parking areas are well lit and not surrounded by obstructions;
  • External doors are secured after dark, and checked by night staff;
  • Public access is restricted to one main entrance at night;
  • An effective risk and compliance committee and a proactive and well-informed Workplace Health and Safety manager;
  • CCTV cameras in public areas;
  • Security check undertaken by maintenance staff in the late afternoon;
  • Broad-ranging Equal Opportunity and Human Rights policies with training that includes anti- bullying for all new staff;
  • A well-established, effective and transparent complaints procedure;
  • Mandatory anti-bullying and drug and alcohol awareness training for new senior nurses;
  • Professional boundaries policy and training for care staff;
  • Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing of all new staff;
  • On site counselling for staff;
  • An established and regular quality control process.

Yet, with all that achieved, MACS still does keeps up the heavy lifting to improve working conditions and support for its front line of care workers.  And the open door access to the CEO and all members of the Leadership Team clearly reinforces this practice. Working in tune with MACS’ value of ‘integrity’ where trust and professionalism are fostered, is key. For the safety and well-being of MACS’ staff would be both a driver and an achievement.


Jacqui Pich, Violence against nurses is on the rise, but protections remain weak, The Conversation, 19 JUN 2017

ANMF calls on CEOs to drive Change to end violence, On the Record, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, July 2017, p6 & 7

Push to End Occupational Violence faced by Nurses and midwives, p5, Australian Nursing and midwifery Journal, VO 25, NO 1 July 2017.

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