A new poll says 68 per cent of Ontario hospital staff reported an assault last year.

The results were released on Wednesday in Windsor by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) through its hospital division, and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

CUPE officials say the assaults are happening at "alarming" rates of frequency. 

Last winter, CUPE says a Windsor Regional Hospital registered practical nurse was choked by a patient in what was described as a brutal attack. At the time, the hospital told media that 20 staff were physically harmed over the past year and that were another 200 incidents in which staff had been threatened.

"Whether it is physical, verbal or sexual, Ontario hospital staff face the potential threat of assault with every shift regardless of what type of hospital they work at," says OCHU president Michael Hurley.

Earlier this fall, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions polled 1,976 members (the majority 1,568 of them women) working in hospitals in seven Ontario communities.

The sample included hospital staff working at large urban hospitals, some with forensic psychiatric units, and mid-size hospitals and one rural hospital.

Respondents were asked whether they had experienced different forms of violence and how often from at least one incident to over nine incidents in an average year.

The poll also probed the prevalence of sexual violence and harassment, and staff perceptions of employer reprisal when workers do report incidents.

Nearly 20 per cent of staff said they've been physically assaulted nine times or more in the last year.

42 per cent of nurses and personal support workers also report having experienced at least one incident in the past year of sexual harassment or assault.

OCHU is asking the province for amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act and the Public Hospitals Act that would better protect hospital staff.