Workplace Violence in the Public Health Sector In South Africa

Rationale / Objectives

Workplace violence is a growing concern worldwide. Research was conducted in South Africa to learn about the level of occupational workplace violence among public and private health workers in South Africa. Objectives were to explore the extent of workplace violence, contributing factors, and to suggest prevention strategies to address the issues.

Project/Program Description & Major Achievements

More than 1000 healthcare workers coming from different levels of health systems participated in the study. The findings showed a shocking number of extremely high levels of workplace violence in South Africa. There is some risk of workplace violence to healthcare workers dealing with psychiatric, confused, or medicated patients, but it is unacceptable that health care workers endure violence from the public, including patient escorts, criminals, outside contractors and high levels among staff members.

Lessons Learned

61.9% of all health care workers in South Africa experienced at least one incident of physical or psychological workplace violence (verbal abuse, bullying/mobbing, racial harassment, sexual harassment) over the past 12 months. 135 respondents reported having been physically attacked in the workplace. Regarding psychological violence, 49.5% of health care workers reported having experienced incidents of verbal abuse, bullying/mobbing at 20.4%, racial harassment at 22.3% and sexual harassment at 4.6%.

Further Description

Research was conducted in South Africa to learn about the level of workplace violence in the health care sectors, as part of the project: “Workplace Violence in the Health Sector: Country Case Studies” initiated by ILO/ICN/WHO/PSI. The study was conducted in the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan region in both public and private healthcare sectors. As South Africa is a developing country where wealth and poverty exist side by side, there is vast discrepancy between public and private health care. Therefore, it was decided to sample equally from both sectors and where possible and applicable, equally in all occupational levels to make a meaningful comparison. Data were collected via focus group interviews and a questionnaire with 1014 participants including nurses, professions allied with medicine, pharmacists, support staff, administrative staff, paramedics, patients and health organizations staff coming from hospital, primary healthcare clinics and nursing home. The data collected revealed the factors contributing to the extremely high levels of workplace violence in South Africa, the knowledge of which informs further intervention policies. Thanks to  the findings, several prevention factors were suggested to improve safety in healthcare sectors such as improved security and surroundings, and more training in self-protection and cultural diversity. 1

Major Achievements

Metric Result Detail
Physical Violence Public Healthcare Sectors (PUBHCS): 67.4% Private Healthcare Sectors (PRIHCS): 32.6%  1
Psychological violence Verbal abuse: 49,5 Bullying/mobbing 20,4% Racial harassment: 22,3% Sexual harassment: 4,6%  1
Perpetrators’ profiles


-45% are patients

-22% are staff

-16% are relatives PRIHCS:

- 22% are patients

- 6% are staff