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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 May 2018
Introduction: Hospital-based gun violence is devastatingly traumatic for everyone present and recent events in Cobourg, Ontario underscore that an active shooter inside the emergency department (ED) is an imminent threat. In June 2016, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) added Code Silver to the list of standardized emergency preparedness colour codes and advised member hospitals to develop policies and train staff on how best to respond. Given that EDs are particularly susceptible to opportunistic breach by an active shooter, the impact of a Code Silver on ED functioning and staff members may be particularly acute. We hypothesized that there may not be a simple, one-size-fits-all-hospital-staff solution about how best to prepare EDs to respond to Code Silver. In order to inform and support future staff training initiatives related to Code Silver and other disaster situations in hospitals, we sought to investigate staff perspectives and behaviour related to personal safety at work and, in particular, an active shooter. Methods: We undertook a qualitative interview study of multi-disciplinary ED staff (MDs, RNs, clericals, allied health, administrators) at a single tertiary care centre in Toronto. The primary methods for data collection were in-depth qualitative interviews and focus groups. Participants were recruited using stakeholder and maximum variation sampling strategies. Data collection and analysis were concurrent and standard thematic analysis techniques were employed. Results: Sixteen (16) staff members participated in interviews and 40 participated in small focus group discussions. Data analysis revealed workplace violence and personal health risks have been normalized as expected, acceptable features of everyday life at work in the ED given that patients are perceived to be sick people in need of help that ED staff are trained for and prepared to provide. In contrast, weapons and active shooters challenge the boundaries of professional responsibility and readiness to respond to Code Silver is perceived by staff as a fallacy. Conclusion: Knowledge from this study gives us crucial insight into important areas for targeted training and opportunities for knowledge translation on the topic of implementing Code Silver in EDs across the country. Future interventions must include how to overcome normalization of workplace violence in the ED setting and negotiating competing professional obligations during crisis situations. Attention to these are crucial if we are to truly keep our staff safe during these traumatic events.
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