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Bill to Address Healthcare Workplace Violence Moves Forward

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   June 13, 2019

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act is voted out of committee.

From 2002 to 2013, healthcare workers were four times more likely to experience incidents of workplace violence that required days off for the injured worker to recover than workers in private industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

To protect healthcare and social service workers from extremely high rates of workplace violence, federal legislation has been proposed. On June 11, HR 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, was voted out of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Bill supporters are calling on House leadership to quickly move it to a full House floor vote.

"Today's vote is a big step forward in passing legislation that would hold our employers accountable, through federal OSHA, for having a prevention plan in place to stop workplace violence before it occurs—literally a life or death issue, given the outrageous rates of violence in America's hospitals, clinics and social service workplaces," says Jean Ross, RN, president of National Nurses United in a news release. "We urge House leadership to schedule a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives as soon as possible, because every moment we lose puts lives in jeopardy."

Elaine Sherman, RN, says she was assaulted by a patient's family members, while helping a fellow nurse.

"Sometimes people think violence only happens in the ER or a psych unit, but I am a medical surgical nurse; it happens in all units," she says. "I was punched in the face seven or eight times. I didn't take a day off because my patients needed me, but it was very difficult."

She says her assault and similar incidents might have been prevented if her employer had more responsive security personnel in place, additional staffing on the units, and closer scrutiny of visitors. Preventive measures like these could be enfolded into violence prevention plans required in the act.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act:

  • Requires OSHA to create a federal workplace violence prevention standard mandating that employers develop comprehensive, workplace-specific plans to prevent violence.
  • Covers a wide variety of workplaces, including hospitals and other inpatient facilities, residential and non-residential treatment settings, medical treatment or social service settings, psychiatric and behavioral health settings, community care setting, and field work settings.  
  • Sets a quick timeline on implementation to ensure timely protection for healthcare workers.
  • Sets minimum requirements for the standard and for employers' workplace violence prevention plans. These requirements include unit-specific assessments and implementation of prevention measures such as physical changes to the environment, staffing for patient care and security, employee involvement in all steps of the plan, hands on training, record keeping requirements including a violent incident log, and protections for employees to report workplace violence to their employers and law enforcement.

"We needed these protections yesterday—because violence doesn't just impact workers, it also impacts patients, visitors, family members and anyone in the vicinity," Ross says. "We all deserve to feel safe in hospitals, clinics and social service settings, which should be places of healing. We urge House leadership to take this to a full House floor vote without delay."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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