Community emergency departments across the province will undergo risk assessments to determine safety and security needs.

That's one of 12 recommendations of a new report looking at ways to improve workplace safety. The report notes that workplace violence for workers in health care and community services has increased between 2013 and 2015.

"These sectors have the highest rates of injury and the largest number of time-loss claims reported to the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia," reads the report.

Risk highest for ER nurses

According to the document, research shows one-third of nurses have been physically assaulted, bullied or injured at work and twice that number have experienced threats or harassment. Nowhere is that risk higher than in emergency departments.

From January 2016 to November 2016, 61 incidents of violence and threats were reported in emergency departments.

It was one of those incidents last October, when a man entered the hospital in Middleton twice in one day with weapons, that precipitated the formation of a working group to produce Friday's report. Premier Stephen McNeil said no one was happy about what happened and it was important for partners in the system to come together and create a plan.

Change in culture

Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton said she thinks 61 incidents of violence and threats is much lower than the actual number and she expects it includes no examples of verbal abuse. For too long, she said, nurses have been willing to accept people yelling at them or getting angry if they feel service isn't fast enough.

Hazelton said that's about to change.

"It's not OK, it's not appropriate and it's no longer going to be tolerated," she said. "We're telling nurses, we're giving them permission to say, 'That's not OK.'"

Other recommendations

Other recommendations include province-wide strategies to prevent workplace violence, better education and providing staff with communications devices to call for help if they are alone with someone.

"Instead of the mix of programs previously in place across the province, a common program will ensure a standardized risk assessment, with site-specific programs, policies, tools, training and work practices designed to address the risks," reads the report.

There will be a provincewide data tracking system as well as an alert system to make staff aware of potential dangers and if a patient may need more specialized care. There will also be a requirement for unions to be made aware of significant workplace violence incidents.

Holding people accountable

There are varying timelines for implementing the 12 recommendations, however all are to be in place by the end of the year. The provincial health authority is required to provide the health minister an update next January.

Hazelton said having timelines in place means people will be able to hold government, the health authority and unions accountable for getting the work done.

"This report is not going to sit on a desk gathering dust."

The working group, which includes representatives from the health authority, unions, law enforcement, Labour Department, Health Department and Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, looked at best practices throughout Nova Scotia and across the country in drafting the recommendations.

Officials said they would have a better sense of the cost of the recommendations when the risk assessments are complete. McNeil doesn't expect the cost to be in the millions, but said whatever it is "we will find the funding to ensure that workers across this province feel safe and that as Nova Scotians access our public institutions they do as well."