Preventing workplace violence in the healthcare industry

One of the biggest challenges faced by security directors today is mitigating the risks posed by workplace violence, which materializes itself in many forms including intimidation, verbal abuse, battery, sexual assault, and in some cases homicides.

Bryan Warren, director of corporate security for Carolinas Healthcare System, joined SIW on Thursday for a webinar on workplace violence in the healthcare industry. According to Warren, workplace violence in the healthcare industry is unique in that the majority of incidents are not employee-on-employee, but rather patient or another visitor against hospital staff.

"Hospitals, if anything, are unpredictable," he said. "Let’s face it; no one comes to a hospital because they want to."

There are also several factors, according to Warren, that contribute to making healthcare facilities more prone to workplace violence, which include an increased number of homeless and psychiatric patients, long wait times and overcrowding, forensic patients (criminal suspects and others brought in by authorities, etc.), and emotions of people who are already on edge. In addition to ER and behavioral health units, Warren said that a hospital’s labor and pediatric departments can also be especially vulnerable, considering the emotional state of a parent who has received word about the diagnosis of their child.

In an effort to better protect against workplace violence, the Joint Commission recommends that hospitals work with their security departments to audit the facility’s risk for violence; take additional security measures in the emergency department especially if it is located in an area with a high crime rate or gang activity; identify strengths and weaknesses and make improvements to the facility’s violence prevention program; require staff members undergo training on responding to patients and family members who are agitated and potentially violent; and encourage employees and other staff members to report any violent activity of the perceived threat of violence.

Warren said he believes that conducting workplace violence drills are key in preparing for potential threats. While these drills can be conducting in a variety of ways, Warren said that a facility’s security department and the local police should be notified when they are going to take place to avoid any confusion.

When it comes to the worst case scenario of an active shooter on the hospital’s campus, Warren said that hospital workers should focus on evacuating patients and other staff and not intervene under any circumstances.

"Your job is to be a good witness," he explained.

Among the information that should be gathered and given to authorities during an active shooter incident includes a description of the suspect, the exact address of the shooting, who is involved, and the suspect’s direction of travel.

To listen to the entire webinar, which will be available after 1 p.m. EST on Feb. 25, visit