We aim to quantitatively synthesise available epidemiological evidence on the prevalence rates of workplace violence (WPV) by patients and visitors against healthcare workers. We systematically searched PubMed, Embase and Web of Science from their inception to October 2018, as well as the reference lists of all included studies. Two authors independently assessed studies for inclusion. Data were double-extracted and discrepancies were resolved by discussion. The overall percentage of healthcare worker encounters resulting in the experience of WPV was estimated using random-effects meta-analysis. The heterogeneity was assessed using the I2 statistic. Differences by study-level characteristics were estimated using subgroup analysis and meta-regression. We included 253 eligible studies (with a total of 331 544 participants). Of these participants, 61.9% (95% CI 56.1% to 67.6%) reported exposure to any form of WPV, 42.5% (95% CI 38.9% to 46.0%) reported exposure to non-physical violence, and 24.4% (95% CI 22.4% to 26.4%) reported experiencing physical violence in the past year. Verbal abuse (57.6%; 95% CI 51.8% to 63.4%) was the most common form of non-physical violence, followed by threats (33.2%; 95% CI 27.5% to 38.9%) and sexual harassment (12.4%; 95% CI 10.6% to 14.2%). The proportion of WPV exposure differed greatly across countries, study location, practice settings, work schedules and occupation. In this systematic review, the prevalence of WPV against healthcare workers is high, especially in Asian and North American countries, psychiatric and emergency department settings, and among nurses and physicians. There is a need for governments, policymakers and health institutions to take actions to address WPV towards healthcare professionals globally.