Report sheds light on weapons use among hospital security personnel

Oct. 31, 2014
Hospital security professionals say they want to implement more training to prevent workplace violence

The increase in violence against healthcare workers has been well-documented in recent years. A study published by the International Healthcare Security and Safety (IHSS) Foundation earlier this year, found that there was a 16 percent increase in violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assaults) at hospitals in the U.S. and Canada from 2012 to 2013. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that healthcare and social assistance workers were the victims of 11,370 assaults, which represented a 13 percent increase over the number of assaults reported in 2009.

If the rate of violence against healthcare workers wasn’t bad enough, statistics for violent acts perpetrated against police officers and security personnel in hospitals is even worse. According to a study published in the Journal of Safety Research in 2013, police officers and security staff had the highest rate of violent event-related injury in hospitals (5.1 per 100 full-time equivalents). Given these statistics, it is only logical that hospitals would want to provide their security personnel with the proper tools to defend themselves. The IHSS Foundation recently commissioned a study conducted by the researchers at Duke University Medical Center and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, on weapons use among hospital security personnel to assess how these weapons were used during violent events.

The study, which consisted of nearly 300 respondents (64 percent of whom had worked in healthcare security for at least 10 years), found that among hospitals that collected relevant details, four percent of events involved the use of a weapon(s) by security personnel. Additionally, seven percent of these events resulted in legal action being taken against the perpetrator, and less than one percent of events resulted in regulatory follow-up. The study also found that in the previous 12 months, 89 percent of hospitals had at least one event of workplace violence.

“One of the stats that came out of the survey was that 98 percent of the hospitals offered workplace violence training or education to their security staff and it went down after that in terms of the different workgroups that might be involved in that training. So, it was surprising that not everyone in the hospital was participating in workplace violence de-escalation training because it is such a prevalent thing that everybody should have,” said Steve Nibbelink, president of the IHSS Foundation. “

However, the study found that the lack of workplace violence training for other workers within the hospitals is not due to lack of want. In fact, the most common recommendation mentioned by survey participants for improving hospital security and workplace violence prevention was training (63 percent), with respondents often indicating the need for training of all staff. Of course, many respondents said that they faced financial barriers in being able to provide the level of training that they wanted.

The types of weapons available to hospital security personnel varied. According the study, handcuffs were the most common type of weapon available to be carried and used by hospital security staff (96 percent), followed by batons (56 percent), OC products (52 percent), handguns (52 percent), Tasers (47 percent), and K9 units (12 percent). Among hospitals with a particular type of weapon, documented training in weapons use was required in approximately 90 percent of the hospitals for nearly all types of weapons.

While the use of Tasers by law enforcement and others has generated much public debate, the study found that there was a 41 percent lower risk of physical assaults in hospitals where Tasers were available to security personnel to carry and use compared to those without.     

“I think the value of Tasers, much like any weapon that’s used, is understanding the role of that weapon – whether it is a Taser or something else. The role that weapon has in the daily security environment and having good policies and procedures for when it should be used are key,” added Nibbelink. “The Taser, like any other weapon, requires education, training, and good policies and procedures. That’s the foundation for making sure that a weapon of any kind is used correctly in the healthcare facility.”

While he believes that most hospitals are well-prepared to deal with the threat of workplace violence, Nibbelink said that there will always be events that cannot be mitigated against no matter how much training and preparation is done by their security staff. For example, Nibbelink pointed out the apparent murder-suicide that occurred last week at a Houston hospital as one such event that is extremely difficult to prepare for.   

“That hospital is prepared for workplace violence. They have protocols and procedures in place and they do training with their security team. They do all of these good things to prepare and do the necessary security and risk management analysis and then you get something like that,” said Nibbelink. “Can we prepare for that completely unknown scenario where we are not getting information about domestic violence, workplace violence or a relationship problem in the hospital between workers or someone coming in from the outside? If you’re not getting that information or people are not confiding in their co-workers, security or HR, that is when it is tough for security to prepare. It is these unknowns that are absolute frustrations for security.”

In the end, Nibbelink said that this and other studies conducted by the foundation show that having a good relationship and communication path between a healthcare facility’s security, clinical and leadership staffs are paramount in providing a safe and secure environment for patient care.

“I think what hospitals are doing right is that communications work, the relationship and collaboration between the security and safety teams and all stakeholders in the hospital. That’s the one thing we find in these surveys and when we talk to people in these facilities – communication, relationships and collaboration – those are the three keys for healthcare providers,” concluded Nibbelink. “If you don’t have that, that’s when you can’t implement good policies and procedures. We need buy-in from all of the employees and the staff of the hospital to create and maintain that welcoming, safe and secure environment.”

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief,

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.