Why Doing More of the Same Won’t Protect Healthcare Workers

Author, Darren Chalmers-Stevens, Group Chief Operating Officer at CriticalArc

Healthcare and social care professionals are continuing to suffer unacceptable levels of workplace violence.

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (USBLS, 2018), staff employed in these sectors are five times more likely to be injured than other workers – today, post-pandemic, the situation has got worse, not better. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 38% of health workers will suffer a physical attack at some point in their careers. Many more, probably a majority, will experience threats or verbal aggression to the extent that impacts both their personal well-being and their ability to do their job.

In many countries – including the U.S., the U.K., and Australia – this is adding unwelcomed stress onto healthcare services; services that are already struggling to cope with rising demand, limited resources, staff shortages, and excessive work pressure.

What’s the answer?

Certainly not ‘business as usual’ or ‘more of the same’. What we’ve done up until now hasn’t worked, and it hasn’t reversed the trend. To put it bluntly, in too many cases employers are failing in their duty of care. This is not for want of trying. Most heads of security and senior executives that I speak with are highly committed and strongly motivated to find solutions. The problem is, up until now, they haven’t had the right tools or strategies available to them.

But a new approach is absolutely possible – one that builds on lessons from the higher education sector, where significant improvements in personal safety, lone worker protection, and security service performance are being achieved, and from some encouraging innovations in healthcare settings. We are already seeing successes being achieved – and measured – by the growing number of providers that we are now working with.

In both the U.S. and the U.K., health sector employers are recognizing the value of looking beyond the traditional reactive solutions and technologies (CCTV, access control, traditional lone worker systems etc.) – security infrastructure that is only focused on hospital premises.

Now, we are working with security managers who want to extend their teams’ domain awareness and response capability out into parking garages, community facilities, and patients’ homes – everywhere, in fact, where their people have to go to carry out their work. Care workers visiting patients’ homes, for example, are a particular concern. In neighborhood clinics, local surgeries, and pharmacies, staff are likely to have at least one or two colleagues close by, if they feel worried or need to call for assistance. But the risk increases for those going alone into domestic settings.

We’ve heard numerous examples of staff feeling under threat of being trapped – including where patients are suffering from dementia, where they have mental health needs, or, in some cases, where they have more sinister motivations.

With the SafeZone solution

Healthcare providers are now enabling all their staff to stay connected with the security team at all times, whether they are working alone in the hospital premises or out in the community. Before the worker arrives at a patient’s home, the user’s phone app can flag up any particular risk factors that they need to be aware of. Before they proceed with the visit, they can check-in to let the operator know that they are entering the premises. And wherever they are, they can easily call for help, ask for advice, or trigger an emergency response. As soon as they do, the security team will know exactly where they are, and who they are, and they’ll be able to see any pre-identified risk factors that apply. This is information that allows a faster, more appropriate response.

With this new approach, healthcare providers no longer need to rely on unaffordable, siloed lone-worker solutions, which have well-documented limitations – not least, the fact that employees often neglect to carry personal alarms with them, and have little confidence of a response. One of the stand-out improvements that we’ve been able to achieve, across multiple settings, is consistently high user engagement and confidence. Users trust the technology and trust that it works.

This high user confidence is one element of the new strategies that we are helping healthcare providers to implement as they push back against rising aggression and violence – strategies that are finally working.

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