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Survey: Social, health care workers face increasing on-the-job violence

Reports of violence against care workers have been growing every year, according to a wellbeing at work survey by the national public health watchdog THL.

Meilahden sairaalan leikkausosasto 2018
Professionals in elder care, emergency response, mental health and disabled services encounter more violence that other groups of care workers. Image: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

Some 54 percent of social and health care workers say they have experienced violence or the threat of violence at work, according to a wellbeing at work survey conducted last year. The National Institute for Health and Welfare THL said that among some groups, as many as 80 percent of people working in the sector said they had experienced violence or the threat of violence.

The survey polled 24,000 workers in northern and eastern Karelia, southern Savo, Päijät-Häme, northern Ostrobothnia and Kainuu. According to the results, 60 percent of survey participants in north Karelia’s "Siun Sote" municipal consortium said they had encountered violence on the job.

Meanwhile 80 percent of professionals working with the elderly and 70 percent of emergency service workers said they had directly experienced violence or been threatened. Some 15 percent of respondents reported sexual harassment while dealing with clients.

"The numbers are probably accurate because we have got similar information from other sources. Last year, Siun Sote personnel filed nearly 1,500 reports of violence in the Haipro system. The increase from last year was 14 percent," said Siun Sote occupational safety chief Mikko Simonen. Haipro is an online tool for logging patient safety incidents.

Broad range of threats

Paramedics come face to face with the full spectrum of patient violence: hey may have to deal with confused seniors, a delusional mental patient of an aggressive drug user. Narcotics are involved in a majority of violent encounters but sometimes patients become belligerent as a result of a somatic illness. In such cases a patient may be triggered by low blood sugar or the aftermath of an epileptic seizure. Even the shortage of oxygen supplied to the brain following a heart attack could explain violent behaviour.

Care workers now have a lower threshold for reporting violence. However the THL said that there has been a clear increase in violence, and not just the readiness to log it, and added that analysis conducted in recent years supports this view.

In a survey conducted last year by Finland’s primary care association, more than 90 percent of respondents said they had confronted violence at work and about a quarter said they had been assaulted. Roughly one year ago, THL polled elder care workers and found that eight out of ten respondents said they had suffered physical attacks.

"The amount of violence is distressingly high and the range is broad. On the milder end we have shouting and verbal abuse and on the more serious extreme, the worst cases involve workplace accidents in which personnel are injured and require hospital care," Simonen explained.

Last year some 30 care workers received hospital treatment for violence, according to the Siun Sote system.

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