Press Release

NNU Nurses’ Petition Granted for National Standard to Prevent Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Assist. Sec. of Labor Announces Approval of Petition on Last Day in Office

Today, on his last day in office, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels announced that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be granting National Nurses United's (NNU) petition for a standard to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings.

"I agree with [NNU] that workplace violence is a serious occupational hazard that presents a significant risk for healthcare and social assistance workers,” said Michaels in a letter to NNU Health and Safety Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “OSHA is granting [NNU’s] petition and will commence rulemaking to address the hazards of workplace violence in the healthcare and social assistance industries."

In July of 2016, NNU submitted a petition to OSHA for a workplace violence prevention standard with an expansive scope, thorough prevention requirements, and robust training. News that the petition would be granted came on the eve of today’s OSHA public stakeholder meeting on workplace violence in Washington, D.C., where NNU nurses—from states around the country—testified on the importance of promptly passing workplace violence regulations.

"Our nurses came to D.C. today to speak out on the importance of passing an enforceable workplace violence prevention standard, and we are thrilled to know that OSHA has granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape," says Castillo. "Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other healthcare workers, as well as their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the US."

Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, gave “kudos” to the California Nurses Association/NNU, which sponsored a law, introduced by now California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, which is seen as the most far-reaching violence prevention plan in the nation. The law, now codified in California regulations, requires employers to develop a comprehensive workplace violence plan emphasizing prevention, training, and worker participation.

“Congratulations to NNU for shepherding our groundbreaking California legislation as a national model to protect all hospital nurses, other healthcare workers and patients,” said Padilla today.

OSHA's rulemaking process will now begin. Nurses and other healthcare workers will have many opportunities to provide testimony at future hearings—like the testimony given today in D.C. by registered nurses such as Allysha Shin, from California, who spoke out about a December incident at her hospital where a patient was combative, attacking nurses and staff who had been assigned to her.

“The patient ripped out of her restraints, pulled out one of her IVs, tore her gown off, and got out of bed.  She kicked me in the chest and stomach multiple times.  It took approximately six people to re-restrain her to the chair,” said Shin.

“Were it not for the patient’s loud screaming and cursing, my co-workers may not have known to come help me. The patient was also at risk of harm, and for 30 minutes, most of the nurses and other staff on the unit could not attend to their own highly acute patients because we did not have properly trained personnel from outside the unit who could help handle combative patients. Predictable and preventable violent incidents such as these should never occur.”

In light of stories like Shin’s, NNU will continue to push OSHA to focus the standard on prevention—not a one-size-fits-all approach—but a robust requirement that employers create and implement effective plans that are specific to the needs of their facilities and are created with input from nurses and other workers. Staffing and its importance to workplace violence prevention will also be a key demand from NNU.

Safe staffing is also a critical factor noted NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN in her testimony today. “We cannot downplay the importance of staffing levels in decreasing workplace violence incidents. Throughout nearly every state in America, hospitals do not meet the nurse-to-patient ratios that are necessary for quality patient care and safety. Increasing staffing must be a priority in order to protect against workplace violence.”

“Our nurses fought hard for the protections we now have in California, and we will not stop fighting until those workplace violence protections exist at the federal level,” said Castillo. “That’s why we applaud OSHA for taking this important step forward today, to protect healthcare and social assistance workers—as well as patients and their families—all across the country. An enforceable workplace violence standard will save lives.”

Workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry face extremely high rates of workplace violence. In 2014, 52 percent of all the incidents of workplace violence reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) occurred against workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry. And the rates have been increasing; between 2005 and 2014, rates of workplace violence incidents have increased 110 percent in private industry hospitals.

National Nurses United is the largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in the US, with more than 150,000 members nationwide.  NNU plays a leadership role in safeguarding the health and safety of RNs and their patients and has won landmark legislation in the areas of staffing, safe patient handling, infectious disease and workplace violence prevention. Nurses across the country are invited to join NNU’s Nurses Health & Safety Campaign at nationalnursesunited.org/site/entry/health-and-safety.