Expanding the horizon of work-related violence: Are we safe in our own communities?

Jacqueline C. Ingram1, Trudy Dwyer2, Kerry Reid-Searl3, Tania Signal4

1 Central Queensland University, Bruce Highway, Rockhampton, QLD, 4700, j.ingram@cqu.edu.au
2 Central Queensland University, Bruce Highway, Rockhampton, QLD, 4700, t.dwyer@cqu.edu.au
3 Central Queensland University, Bruce Highway, Rockhampton, QLD, 4700, k.reid-searl@cqu.edu.au
4 Central Queensland University, Bruce Highway, Rockhampton, QLD, 4700, t.signal@cqu.edu.au

Trigger Warning: Some nurses may find the participant responses reported in this presentation distressing. Attendee discretion advised. This presentation presents preliminary findings from recent Australian research and aims to challenge the mindset that work-related violence for ED nurses is something that begins and ends at the doors of our emergency departments.  Past research has shown that ED nurses have a career risk of up to 100% for violence and physical intimidation in the workplace.  Fifty per cent of all hospital-based violence occurs in the ED and in the vast majority of instances, patients are the assailants.  Emergency nurses are so frequently subjected to abuse, intimidation and harassment that we have become inured to the problem and rarely report such incidents through formal channels. But perhaps even more common than overt victimisation, is the recurrent and pervasive sense of vulnerability experienced by ED nurses both at work and in our communities.  For many of our colleagues, perhaps more so for those working in regional, rural and remote centres, the work-related vulnerability and safety infringements they experience at the hands of patients is something that may follow them home.  As readily identifiable and easily locatable members of their communities, things as simple as travelling to and from work, walking down the street, shopping for groceries, attending a sporting event or even dropping their kids at school could become hazardous.  While no ED-nurse specific data has been found, global health and safety statistics tell a cautionary tale.  Records demonstrate an overrepresentation of health care workers as victims of stalking and murder is the leading cause of work-related death for women with their exposure to volatile patients proposed as a key contributing factor. This suggests that it is no longer enough to confine our research to the violence experienced by nurses in their workplaces.  Rather it would seem prudent to expand our horizon and begin routinely exploring the broader safety-implications of our work as ED nurses both on and off duty.  Therefore, as part of a larger study encompassing ED-nurse safety, work-stress, professional conduct and conflict resolution, research is about to begin into Australian ED nurses’ experiences of abuse and intimidation at the hands of patients in our workplaces and our communities.  This component of the research focuses not only upon the frequency with which ED nurses experience direct violence and threats, but also upon the frequency with which our sense of safety is undermined by encounters with patients while on and off duty.


Jacqueline is a PhD candidate through Central Queensland University with almost 20 years of ED nursing experience.  Jacqueline has completed undergraduate degrees in Nursing, Health Promotion and Health Education. She received 1st class Honours for her research into the abuse of ED nurses by their clients and colleagues. Jacqueline’s key areas of interest are emergency nursing, workplace violence, professional conduct, ethical decision making and patient’s rights.