Social and healthcare workers expose the hidden violence in their field with black eyes 

The nursing shortage has caused a crisis in healthcare systems across the world. This threat has been widely recognized but its impact on violence against healthcare workers goes unnoticed. A Finnish study reveals that over two-thirds of Finland's healthcare and care workers face violence at work. To pressure the decision-makers to act, nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare professionals portrayed black eyes at work and on social media.  

A comprehensive survey (Aula Research, 2021) conducted by Tehy (The Union of Health and Social Care and Early Education Professionals in Finland) reveals that 69% of Finnish health and care workers had experienced violence or its threat at work. According to the same survey, 39% of the respondents indicated that reporting such incidents did not result in any follow-up actions.

To advocate for safer working conditions, health and care professionals across Finland showed up to work with makeup portraying black eyes. The act is part of a broader campaign that aims to force legislators and employees to take concrete action. Since its launch, the campaign has already caused wide national discussion and the phenomenon has taken over social media.

- Workplace violence in the health and care sector has been a silenced problem in our society that has increased year by year. It is shocking that professionals who are protecting human lives are forced to fear for their own safety. By arriving at workplaces with blackened eyes and taking over social media, we bring this issue into the light of day", says Millariikka Rytkönen, Chairwoman of Tehy.

Tehy's long-term goal is zero tolerance for violence across the entire social, healthcare, and early childhood education sectors. Achieving this goal requires significant changes in both labor and criminal legislation. For employers, a key focus lies in the prevention of violent incidents, but also in establishing clear protocols for handling such situations.

- While the causes of workplace violence cannot always be completely eradicated, it does not mean that the issue should be left unaddressed. And when dealing with such a serious problem, concrete actions are needed more than just eloquent words. Violence cannot be a matter of career choice", continues Rytkönen.

Health and care professionals face both psychological and physical violence in their work. Before launching a national campaign against workplace violence, Tehy gathered experiences from health and care workers nationwide.

"I've been hit, kicked, scratched, grabbed by the hand, spat upon, verbally abused, and threatened with death. Many times, I've had to return to my workstation after encountering violence and continue working as if nothing had happened", says one of the respondents.

"I've endured being punched, kicked, objects thrown at me, scratched, and even spat on – sometimes by individuals with bloodborne diseases. Moreover, I've heard threats that were directed towards my own family", adds another respondent.

The ongoing healthcare emergency increases the risk of workplace violence significantly

Based on a report from the International Council of Nurses (ICN), the worldwide shortage of nurses should be treated as a global healthcare emergency. While solving the shortage is important on many levels, many don’t realize the role it plays in decreasing workplace violence.

- Shortage of workforce is one of the major factors escalating the risk of violence as having insufficient staffing inevitably leads to rush and taking unnecessary risks. A prime example of this is the nursing shortage, which, combined with the increased healthcare needs of the population, consistently results in hazardous situations in workplaces. We need to ensure an adequate workforce for the social, health and care sector, or we will see a significant rise in workplace violence”, explains Inka Lehtinen, Tehy’s lawyer specializing in workplace violence.

Workplace violence is a globally acknowledged issue and in 2019 the International Labour Organization (ILO) approved a convention to eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace. Up to date Finland is yet to ratify the agreement and Tehy demands prompt action from the government.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), workplace violence is a significant risk when working in the health and care industry. Violence against health and care workers harms both the psychological and physical well-being which poses a risk of compromising the quality of care.

- While we only observe this phenomenon from the Finnish perspective, the issue touches every healthcare worker on a global scale. This is why we urge health and care professionals around the world to join us in raising awareness of this issue either on social media or at their place of work”, concludes Lehtinen.

Read more about the campaign and download assets for press use here 
For more information: 

Inka Lehtinen 
Lawyer, Tehy 
[email protected] 

Jaana Reijonaho
Press officer, Tehy
[email protected]