Physical violence 'part of the job' for hospital workers, CUPE poll finds
63% of respondents report experiencing physical violence at workplaces
A new poll conducted for the Canadian Union of Public Employees has found that physical violence is a reality for a majority of hospital workers in Ontario.
The poll of more than 2,300 CUPE members, which included registered practical nurses, personal support workers, health care aides, administrative and cleaning staff, found that 63 per cent of respondents report experiencing physical violence at their workplaces. The poll, released on Tuesday, was conducted from May 17 to 24.
According to the poll, 14 per cent of respondents said they experienced physical violence daily, 22 per cent said they experienced it weekly, and 27 per cent said they experienced it occasionally. Violence included pushing, hitting, or being struck by objects thrown by patients or their family members.
"Every day, hundreds of health-care workers are hit, sexually assaulted, racially attacked, and verbally harassed in Ontario hospitals," Sharon Richer, secretary- treasurer of CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), told reporters on Tuesday.
"Our most recent poll reveals Ontario hospitals are increasingly toxic and dangerous workplaces, where violence against the workforce, which is 85 per cent female, is not only tolerated but largely ignored," Richer said.
"This surge in violence against women, much of it racially motivated, comes against a backdrop of severe unprecedented staffing shortages and vacancies in our hospitals."
Richer demanded that Ontario hospital management, Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones "not look the other way" but take action to protect workers. Hospital management needs to be held accountable for toxic work environments, she said.
She also called for an increase in health-care funding, a boost in staffing levels and beds, and legislation to protect whistle-blowers who report violence.
Violence is the reason that people are leaving hospital jobs, Richer added.
According to the poll, 36 per cent of respondents also said they experienced sexual assault, such as groping or inappropriate touching, on the job.
Seventy-eight per cent of respondents, meanwhile, said they experienced what the poll called "non-physical violence," such as name-calling, insults, threats and threatening gestures. Twenty-five per cent said they experienced this harassment daily, 22 per cent experienced it once a week and 31 per cent experienced it occasionally.
Among respondents who identify as racialized, 71 per cent said they experience harassment or abuse because of their race or ethnicity either daily, weekly or occasionally.
Richer said the poll shows that reports of physical violence, sexual harassment, racially motivated attacks against hospital workers have risen during the pandemic.
According to the poll, 54 per cent of respondents reported they have witnessed an increase in violence since the start of the pandemic, while 53 per cent of respondents reported they have experienced an increase over the same period.
The poll also asked respondents about violence involving weapons, including knives, guns and sticks.
Twenty-four per cent respondents reported an increase in the number of incidents of people bringing weapons into their facilities since the start of the pandemic. Eighteen per cent of respondents reported that there has been an increase in the number of incidents involving weapons used against staff since March 2020.
Forty-eight per cent of respondents said their employers have not taken steps to protect workers from violence in the past year.
35% 'extremely anxious,' poll finds
When asked how anxious, depressed, or emotionally exhausted workers feel most days because of conditions at work, 35 per cent said they were extremely anxious while 27 per cent said they were anxious.
Dave Verch, a registered practical nurse in Ottawa and first vice-president of CUPE's OCHU, said the findings show violence has escalated during the pandemic.
"Violence is definitely part of the job, unfortunately. I've been punched, I've been kicked, I've been scratched. I've had things thrown at me, unfortunately. Sometimes it was urine or worse," he said. "It happens in the workplace."
Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said in a statement on Tuesday that the health and safety of employees is a priority for the association and its member hospitals.
"Acts of violence are never accepted as something that staff members should expect to face within the workplace," he said.
"Hospitals have comprehensive workplace violence prevention policies and programs that are developed with these goals in mind."
Dale said the OHA and its member hospitals take the obligation to ensure their workplaces are free from violence seriously and will work with unions to ensure its obligations are met.
CUPE commissioned polling firm Oraclepoll Research to conduct the research. A total of 2,307 of its hospital members were surveyed across Ontario with survey questions designed by the union in consultation with the firm.
Oraclepoll used computer-assisted telephone interviewing with live researchers, and telephone interview appointments when respondents were unable to complete the survey at the time. It also offered digital surveys for those who requested them, and used the text-to-phone method with a link to the survey when respondents didn't answer the phone.
The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus two per cent, 19 times out of 20.
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp