Paramedics in Ontario and Nova Scotia are experiencing a high level of abuse on the job, says a new study.

Over two thirds say they have been subjected to verbal, physical or sexual abuse at the hands of patients, their families, colleagues or bystanders.

The study of 1,381 paramedics was conducted by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. It found that:

  • 67.4 per cent of EMS workers reported verbal abuse.
  • 41.5 per cent said they had been intimidated, with much of the intimidation being carried out by colleagues (45.3 per cent).
  • 26.1 per cent had been physically abused, with 92.3 per cent reporting that patients were responsible for these attacks.
  • 13.6 per cent of paramedics said they had experienced sexual harassment, with 64.7 per cent of respondents stating that patients were to blame and 41.2 per cent reporting harassment by colleagues.
  • 2.7 per cent of EMS responders reported having been the victims of sexual assault, with the vast majority of assaults committed by patients (88.9 per cent).

"Anecdotal reports and workplace safety records have highlighted cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, yet until now, there has been little scientific research," said Blair Bigham, the lead investigator, in a release. "More research is needed to understand the impact of this workplace violence."

The study, conducted in 2011, is published in the January 2012 issue of Prehospital Emergency Care.