A hospital has been fined for failing to protect the health and safety of a nurse who was violently attacked by a patient while working.

The psychiatric nurse was working in the secure extended care unit ward of a Melbourne hospital when a patient experiencing schizophrenic delusions hit the nurse repeatedly with a motorbike battery (weighing several kilos) inside a bag. The nurse required hospitalisation and has not returned to work.

The patient was experiencing schizophrenic delusions and had become fixated that the nurse was going to murder him. Before the assault occurred, the patient’s daughter contacted the hospital several times to warn them her father was experiencing mental deterioration and believed the nurse was trying to kill him. Management failed to alert the nurse they were the fixation of the paranoid delusions and did not attempt to control the risk.

The hospital was charged with breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act which establishes primary duty of care. It states employers are required to provide and maintain a safe environment without risks to health for employees to work in.

The patient’s schizophrenia was treatment resistant, he had a history of physical violence, a warning sign he was deteriorating was his fixation on a person believing they were trying to kill him. The hospital should have alerted the nurse of the patient’s risk or offered to transfer the nurse until the risk was not present. By not doing so the hospitals own policies and procedures were breached and they failed to protect the nurse’s safety. The hospital pleaded guilty and was fined $30,000.

WorkSafe Victoria stated it is an employer’s responsibility to keep their staff safe at work. Employers need to identify the risk of violence in the workplace and assess the likelihood and potential severity of the risks. Risk identification and assessment will provide the basis for developing health and safety policies focused on occupational violence. It is important to promote a culture that does not accept violence in addition to measured related to individual risks. De-escalation training and reporting incidents of violence are also important.

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