UNA marks Nurses Week with acknowledgement, thanks and concern

Traditionally, Nurses’ Week provides an opportunity to thank and recognize nurses for the important work they do – and, sometimes, to acknowledge the dangers they face in their work.

Each year Nurses’ Week is celebrated internationally on the week that includes May 12 – the birth date of Florence Nightingale, who is widely recognized as the founder of the modern nursing profession.

In 2018, United Nurses of Alberta wants to use the occasion to raise awareness of abuse in health care worksites in Alberta and Canada – and to start a dialogue with stakeholders and the public that can help lead to solutions.

UNA has included this concern in its 2018 Nurses’ Week advertising. We will continue to press for protection for nurses and other health care employees in their workplaces – whether they are hospitals, care facilities, clinics or private homes – as well as our patients, residents, clients and their families and friends 

Statistics indicate health care violence concerns are justified

UNA believes the possibility of abuse or even physical violence may increase during medical emergencies when health care workers such as nurses are treating people in physical and mental distress. Hospital visits in particular can be frightening and emotional experiences for the sick and injured, the elderly, and their family members, leading to potentially volatile situations.

Alberta Workers Compensation Board statistics indicate the rate of workplace violence claims accepted by the WCB for health care workers is more than twice the rate for government and education workers, roughly 50 times the rate for manufacturing workers, and 60 times the rate for construction workers.

In addition, a recent survey of UNA members showed workplace violence, harassment and other forms of staff abuse affecting nurses continues to be a significant problem in Alberta health care workplaces. Close to half the working nurses who responded to the UNA survey said they had experienced physical violence such as being pushed, hit or having things thrown at them at work in the previous 12 months. Almost 18 per cent said they had experienced physical violence at work during their most recent five shifts.

Troublingly, respondents to the UNA survey indicated little has happened to improve this situation.

It’s time to ensure nurses are safe at work

As some of UNA’s online advertisements say, “It’s Nurses’ Week … time to recognize nurses for the work they do on the front lines of our health care system every day. It’s time to make sure they’re safe from verbal, emotional and physical abuse on the job.”

How can you help? Simply acknowledging this reality is a step forward in governing our own interpersonal relationships with health care workers when health crises or emergencies take place.

UNA believes governments and health care employers must continue to play a crucial role in solving this problem by working to improve measures to reduce the amount of violence, bullying and other abuse in our workplaces. The best way to do this is to assure staffing in health care workplaces is at appropriate, and safe, levels.

UNA also calls for appropriate levels of security in all public health care workplaces – and that includes small rural hospitals.” This means security must be there at all the times, not potentially hours away, as is now often the case.

UNA’s Occupational Health & Safety Advisor is working with Alberta Health Services, police and other unions to ensure solutions to hospital security problems can be found.

UNA thanks nurses … and seeks their help

UNA acknowledges the selfless work of nurses everywhere. Like other members of society, we thank professional nurses for the pivotal role they play.

UNA also encourages all nurses – and especially UNA members – to use the Professional Responsibility Concern and Occupational Health & Safety Provisions in their UNA collective agreements to raise concerns about situations that could affect the health and safety of both patients and nurses.

Only with your help can we track problems in the workplace – and develop specific solutions to emerging problems. We can’t track what’s not reported.

For assistance filing a PRC or OH&S report, nurses can contact their Local Executive or call UNA at 1-800-252-2943.