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Health-care workers who are physically assaulted at work are more likely to experience musculoskeletal symptoms, according to a new study.
Researchers analysed 920 clinical nursing-home workers in the US, of whom nearly a half had been physically assaulted at work at least once during the preceding three months by a resident, or resident’s visitor. The study found that the risk of musculoskeletal symptoms increased with the number of assaults.
Previous studies have shown a high prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders among health-care workers, who are often exposed to risks associated with lifting and high-speed work. Health-care workers are also at risk of physical violence in their work, which can lead to health problems, including anxiety, depression, fatigue and headache.
The effect of violence on musculoskeletal conditions, however, has rarely been investigated. In the American study, those assaulted three times or more during the preceding three months were 1.5 times more likely to experience lower-back pain, and more than twice as likely to suffer upper-extremity pain, compared with those who had not been the victim of violence at work.
Moreover, the risk of experiencing pain in several body areas concurrently was three times higher for assault victims once other work-related and individual factors had been taken into account.
Lead researcher Dr Helena Miranda, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational, said: “Such a strong association cannot only be explained by physical injuries. Workplace violence is a considerable stress factor, which can induce, reinforce and prolong pain symptoms.
“Only recurring fear or threat of violent assaults is enough to produce pain-like symptoms.”
The study also showed that good safety climate reduced the consequences of violence. In those workplaces where management places an importance on workplace health and safety and where staffing is adequate, the association between violence and pain was weaker, or was no longer observed.
The study, ‘Violence at work increases the risk of musculoskeletal pain among nursing-home workers’, is published online in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal.