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Health, safety and violence in the healthcare sector: findings from the ANMF (Vic Branch) survey

Health, safety and violence in the healthcare sector: findings from the ANMF (Vic Branch) survey

Monash University Associate Professor Ross Donohue. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

The upcoming ANMF (Vic Branch) conference on creating a mentally safe workplace aims to help members identify factors in the workplace that may cause psychological harm and, importantly, to understand what steps should be taken to ensure your employer is proactively addressing these risks to provide a safe work environment.

One of the speakers will be Ross Donohue, a Monash University associate professor, talking about the findings from the most recent ANMF (Vic Branch) and Monash University survey on health, safety and violence in the healthcare sector.

The findings will be of little surprise: members are experiencing high levels of work-related violence and aggression. ‘That’s a very concerning finding,’ Dr Donohue says. ‘I know I’m preaching to the converted here, and that you may well already be acutely aware of that. But we’ve now got empirical evidence that unequivocally demonstrates that that’s the case.’

Survey results

The online anonymous survey of ANMF (Vic Branch) members was conducted between April and May 2023. It asked about four specific types of work-related violence and aggression:

  • workplace bullying
  • incivility
  • work-related violence
  • work-related gendered violence.

The researchers sought to understand not only the prevalence of such behaviours, but also:

  • their impact on members’ mental health and wellbeing; and their subjective wellbeing – their perceptions of their physical, mental and emotional and social health
  • members’ perceptions of support and safety in the healthcare environment
  • the post-incident support, if any, that was provided to members after one of these experiences
  • work-related burnout
  • and members’ perceptions about the value and emphasis that senior leadership places on staff psychological health and safety – the psychosocial safety climate of workplaces. And we also wanted to explore the post-incident support, if any, that was provided to members after one of these experiences.

The survey results have also been compared against an earlier survey of members, conducted in 2014, in terms of whether there had been any improvement or decline.

The results were not good, but may have been skewed by COVID, Dr Donohue said. For example, 76 per cent of the respondents had experienced work-related violence in the previous six months, up from the 67 per cent in the 2014 survey. Fifty per cent of respondents reported experience workplace bullying, up from 42 in 2014. There was a significant increase in work-related burnout compared with the 2014 survey.

Equally worrying was that members’ responses to incidents tended to be informal – telling colleagues or friends – rather than formal. In other words, members were not using formal mechanisms in terms of reporting the incident to human resources or to the OHS manager, or informing their health and safety representative.

This means that post-incident support is lacking.

‘The distilled finding from our study finds that the frequency and persistence of workplace violence and aggression inflicts an unacceptable level of psychological harm on ANMF members,’ Dr Donohue said, ‘and I think that should be a concern for you, for the Federation, for employers, for regulators for everyone involved in healthcare.’

At the upcoming conference, Dr Donohue will detail the results in more depth and offer his team’s recommendations for how to improve these results in the future – from how to create cultural change and improve reporting systems to safe systems of work and what the evidence says about improving post-incident support provided to people who experience work-related violence and aggression.