New Brunswick

Violence on the job could decrease with new changes in provincial law, nurses say

The New Brunswick Nursing Union hopes changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act will make working in health care safer for its members and everyone using the health care system.

New Brunswick catches up with other provinces with amendments to workplace legislation

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said employers, government and the public need to help ensure workplaces are safe. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Nurses Union hopes changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act will make working in health care safer for its members and everyone using the health care system.

New legislation to protect workers from violence and harassment in the workplace came into effect Monday. 

Under the amendments, employers must have a written code of conduct in place to prevent workplace harassment.

Each employer must conduct a risk assessment to establish the likelihood of violence happening in the workplace. Depending on the findings of the assessment, employers may be required to develop a code of practice to prevent violence.

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, says it's a good first step toward decreasing violence against nurses.

"We are one of the last provinces in the country to have this in regulation, and we are pleased … effective today that is in place."

But she added, it takes more than "words on a page" to make workplaces safer.

"It takes a concerted effort from employers, government, the public and staff to ensure that every workplace across this province is safe."

Doucet said a workplace assessment will most likely look at things such as locking doors, more lighting, and security glass.

Help with reporting

According to Geneviève Pilon, assistant director of the northeast region at WorkSafeNB, the amendments to the act will give employees and employers a solid framework to deal with threats, violence and harassment. 

"How to report, how to investigate, how to communicate the results, so it will certainly help to manage or prevent any of those situations."

Geneviève Pilon, assistant director of the northeast region at WorkSafeNB, says the amended act gives a framework for reporting and investigating incidents of violence.

Numbers from the two health authorities show that assaults and abuse are numerous.

Vitalité Health Network reports that in 2017-2018, there were 586 violent patient incidents against employees, including physical assaults, threats and verbal abuse.

The next year surpassed that, with a count of at least 637 threats and assaults. Those two years were still better than 2016-2017, when 751 incidents were reported.

Long-term-care nurses vulnerable

Vitalité reports assaults and threats happen most often in long-term-care units.

Horizon Health Network reports its information differently but said average of 433 incidents a year occurred over the last three years.

Most of those were classified as "near misses," meaning there was either no injury or only minor first aid was required.

Twelve per cent of the incidents required the employee to seek medical care, while seven per cent resulted in missed work.

The amendments garnered attention in mid-March when a nurse at the Dr.-Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital Centre was allegedly attacked by the husband of a patient.

The nurse's mother, Norma Melanson, described the assault, which left the 44-year-old nurse with two black eyes, a broken nose and concussion, as "savage."

Paula Doucet said that in a union survey of 1,700 members, 63 per cent of respondents said they were assaulted within the last 12 months.  

"I think we could talk every day to a nurse and they've either been verbally assaulted or physically assaulted and those numbers include our long-term-care sector."

Staffing an issue

Doucet said staffing shortages are likely a factor in the assaults. She said members of the public expect quick care and can become frustrated when they don't receive it.

"They have to be very mindful that when we're in stressful situations it is not correct to lash out at the person standing in front of you because they are the ones that are there providing the care in those difficult situations."

The public, government and nurses will all have to work together to fix the problem, according to Doucet.

She estimated many assaults aren't reported by her union's members and that needs to change.