Violence against Paramedics – A “safety differently” approach

Anecdotal and empirical reports of Paramedic exposure to violence in the workplace have increased. This includes verbal abuse, assault, sexual harassment and threatened violence against Paramedics as part of their daily role. Increased reporting, however, is a positive step forward. Let me explain through the perspective of modern safety science.

The first step to developing a safer workplace in a complex and variable environment is recognizing the need to have adaptive processes that build capacity. What we know from the modern safety literature is that as reports of minor incidences increase, the major unexpected harmful or fatal incidences decrease.  The old concept of “zero” injuries/incidences drives reporting underground and reduces overall safety. Increased reports of incidences are evidence of organizational trust and opportunity to learn and increase capacity to prevent harm.

What modern safety science research is telling us, is that despite the horrific interactions that Paramedics are experiencing, there is some positive to what we are currently seeing that will ultimately make the work environment safer.  I will show how we can harness this momentum and improve organizational culture by looking at safety differently.

Contrary to the traditional bureaucratic, policy and compliance approach to safety, “safety differently” approaches workplace safety from a new view, where the front-line experts are a resource to be harnessed and not a problem to be fixed. Workers create safe environments on a minute-by-minute basis.

Despite well intentioned policy that reflects work as imagined, often it does not reflect work as done; creating a grey zone of risk.  Complex and dynamic environments evolve over time, Paramedic practice as many leaders have experienced is different even months after leaving clinical practice.

Contrary to what one may believe to be the solution to preventing harm from violence towards Paramedics, we cannot rely on punitive jurisprudence to deter violence against Paramedics. Safety science shows clear evidence that deterrence and behaviour change for both perpetrators and workers is not a conclusive safety measure in a complex situation.

Understanding the new view and application of safety differently, will better allow Paramedic services to prepare staff.  Violence against Paramedics is a complex issue that occurs in a complex and dynamic environment. The solution cannot be a blanket policy, nor can it be individualized for every situation.

We need to build safety capacity to reduce the potential for harm when Paramedics are exposed to workplace violence.  Studying when things go well, and violence is avoided will help inform the solution to the issue.

The objectives of this talk are:

  • Introduce the current problem of violence towards paramedics with an academic review of the problem;
  • Share a conceptual perspective on the workplace culture that is driving this current violence towards paramedic’s notoriety;
  • Introduce concepts of safety differently; including the new view, work as designed vs. work as performed, and harnessing workers as the solution;
  • Understanding the impact of jurisprudence and deterrents versus barriers and controls and where safety exists;
  • Outline an approach and the research needed to address the problem of violence towards Paramedics and making safer Paramedic services.

This talk is relevant to both leaders and practitioners, introducing core concepts of “safety differently”, and how leaders can change an organization, make our work safer overall, and address workplace violence towards Paramedics.