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Hospital Advisory: Should Hospital Security Officers Be Armed with Weapons?

May 11, 2017

In light of continued reports of violent incidents in healthcare facilities, healthcare professionals are debating whether arming their hospital security officers will improve safety for patients.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), healthcare and social service workers face significant risks of job-related violence. Although less than 20% of all workplace injuries happen to healthcare workers, they suffer 50% of all assaults. The actual rates may be even higher as research has shown that many incidents may go unreported. Security experts emphasize that using weapons in a healthcare setting has a different impact than when used on the street. Visible weapons in a healthcare facility are likely to send a negative message and security uniforms may agitate certain individuals. The purpose of using weapons is to enable trained security officers to prevent or stop violence directed towards hospital personnel, visitors and patients.

Most hospital security officers complete at least basic safety programs that cover subjects like weapon safety and the laws related to arrest. Security officer basic training courses may be tailored to an individual hospital’s needs. Any type of weapon used by security officers in any setting must be licensed, and the officer must be certified to carry those weapons (baton, firearm, etc.)

Funded by the International Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation (IHSSF) and investigated by Duke University Medical Center, a recent survey revealed the following regarding weapon use among hospital security personnel:

  • Handcuffs were the most common weapon available to hospital security officers and used in 96% of the hospitals surveyed
  • The baton was carried and used by hospital security officers at 56% of the hospitals
  • The UDAP brand of pepper spray was carried by security officers in 52% of the hospitals
  • Tasers were used in 47% of the hospitals surveyed with a 41% lower risk of physical assault among hospital security personnel who used Tasers
  • Handguns were being used by hospital security officers in 52% of the hospitals surveyed

What do hospitals need to do?

Many factors determine whether to arm the hospital security officer and the particular weapon that should be selected; including, but not limited to, local, state and federal laws that apply to the possession of weapons. For example, an acute care hospital in a high-crime area is more likely to need armed guards than a specialty facility in a low crime area. Hospitals must balance the need for a better overall security program and creating a comfortable, safe environment for patients and staff.

Consider the following strategies first before determining if, when and how to arm your security guards:

  1. Conduct a comprehensive security risk assessment with a reputable company
  2. Hire your security agency or officers carefully, ensuring that officers have the necessary training and certifications required both by your facility and state and federal laws. Officers experienced in healthcare security operations are preferable.
  3. Talk to peers at local hospitals about their experiences and policies
  4. Contact your state hospital association for healthcare security data in your state and for other security-related resources
  5. Conduct multiple security training sessions for employees about the warning signs of violence, taking these signs seriously and reporting them in a timely manner to the appropriate hospital managers
  6. Develop strong ties with local law enforcement
  7. Utilize strict access control in certain areas of the hospital, such as the newborn nurseries and operating room areas

The decision to arm hospital security officers is an individual one. It may be safer, less expensive and more effective to hire security officers who do not carry firearms but who are well-trained to defuse potentially violent situations. In addition, consider the use of Tasers and mace, which do not carry the serious risks associated with firearms, but have been proven successful in overtaking violent individuals. 

The information presented in this Article is intended as general information of interest to physicians and other healthcare professionals. The recommendations and advice published herein do not reflect or establish a standard of care and do not establish rules for the practice of medicine. The publication of this information is not intended as an offer to insure such conditions or exposures, or to indicate that MAG Mutual Insurance Company will underwrite such risks for the reader. Our liability is limited to the specific written terms and conditions of actual insurance policies issued.

Originally published August 2016, updated and republished here May 2017.

Disclaimer

The information and resources provided in this course or publication have been prepared to provide general information only. It is not to be relied upon in lieu of or as a substitute for legal, medical or other professional advice. The laws, rules, regulations and case law may differ in your state. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state for specific questions and advice. While all care has been taken in the preparation of this course or publication, no responsibility is accepted by MagMutual Insurance Company or the MagMutual Patient Safety Institute or its employees or agents for any errors, omissions, or inaccuracies, or for any known or unknown consequences that may result from reliance on any information provided in this publication.

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