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A Psychiatric Nurse Talks About Injuries Received At Work

A Psychiatric Nurse Talks About Injuries Received At Work

The risk of being bitten, scratched, pinched or hit is real threat for many of us. The following is just one of many emails we receive from mental health care nurses, carers, special educational needs teachers, psychiatric social workers and indeed parents taking care of children displaying challenging behaviour. 

In order to raise awareness for a much under-reported risk faced by above individuals, we sometimes like to offer a platform to those who have experienced violence and injury at work, either directly or indirectly.

The following is a message we have received on 22 January 2021, from ‘Barry’, an Ohio (USA) based psychiatric nurse:

I think that protective products such as BitePRO® Bite Resistant Clothing are very much needed for acute psychiatric nurses and carers who are often the victims of all types of assault, including biting, scratching or pinching. After working for the last ten years as a psychiatric nurse, I have seen all sorts of staff directed violence. Oddly, it has become accepted by the industry and management as “part of the job”. Management tries to create a belief that they care about staff assaults, but their actions (or lack thereof) speak louder than words.

I was at the Psychiatric Nurses Association conference in New Orleans last year and saw some very interesting products, such as a padded riot type shield to use to safely contain patients during periods of out-of-control violent agitation. When I presented these types of ideas to my manager, they were quickly dismissed as “too drastic/extreme”, even though we regularly have violent incidents on the unit that would call for these types of defensive tools.

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I have been lucky that I have never been seriously injured at work from a patient assault, however, many of my co-workers have not been so lucky. I am a bigger guy, certainly not a “tough guy” or anything like that, but I can handle myself, for the most part. Unfortunately, many of my peers are smaller framed females that do have a little chance against some of our bigger and violent patients. A strange type of denial exists. Many appear to be clueless, and they seem shocked and completely surprised when terrible things happen. If you try to explain this to people in this politically correct world in which we live now you are likely to be labelled as chauvinistic and will be reported to the corporate sensitivity police to be sentenced to sensitivity classes if you are lucky or dismissed from your position if you are not so lucky.

Unfortunately, some of the patients that we admitted were essentially criminals that knew how to play the system to stay out of jail. I got into the field of psychiatric nursing to help those suffering from mental illness, not to be a prison guard. I suspect many nurses share this type of feeling, certainly in the US and most likely around the world. I am considering working as a nurse in the prison environment - at least everyone there is on the same page in terms of the clientele.

I wanted to give you a bit of background. I am greatly in favour of any type of appropriate tool that can reduce the occurrence of injury from patient assault or violence. Your bite, scratch and pinch protective clothing are appropriate tools for the violent world in which we inhabit. Anyone that argues otherwise is in denial.

Biting usually became an issue when arms and legs were pinned, and we were administering medications. Believe it or not biting and scratching was also a major problem with violent, agitated dementia patients.

Anyway, best wishes to you. I highly appreciate your products and hope to see them in widespread use in years to come. Thanks again.

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Barry, I thank you very much for sharing your story with us and our global audience. I do believe many will agree with you, too many professionals working within mental health care or psychiatric nursing still believe being bitten is ‘part of the job’ and it doesn’t warrant reporting.

Very recently a mental health care publication conducted an interview with me. One of the questions was… "How do you explain the increase in bite incidents in mental health care?"

This was my answer:

"I do not believe the incidents of biting, scratching or indeed pinching are on the increase. I do believe more and more countries, organisations and governing bodies develop a better understanding of what needs reporting and what is deemed as unacceptable in terms of risk and injuries for mental health care and psychiatric nurses. More and more professionals learn to understand that ‘being bitten’ is not just part of their job role. It can be prevented... protective clothing can reduce the level of pain/injury... and above all it requires reporting appropriately, and the management must do their utmost to mitigate this risk."

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About the Author

Robert Kaiser is the Founder and CEO of BitePRO®, the world's first specialised brand of protective clothing, offering dependable scratch and bite protection for healthcare workers, education professionals, and others working with individuals displaying challenging behaviour. Robert is a widely respected expert in workplace violence and violence prevention. His written work has been published in several international industry leading publications.