House Committee Votes to Advance Bill to Protect Health Care, Social Service Workers from Epidemic of Workplace Violence
Nurses, other workers urge legislators to quickly move bill to full House floor vote
A federal bill to protect health care and social service workers from extremely high rates of workplace violence (WPV)—HR 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, by Rep. Joe Courtney—was today voted out of the House Committee on Education and Labor, with bill supporters urging House leadership to now 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,” said National Nurses United (NNU) President Jean Ross, RN. “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.”
“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,” said Washington, D.C. registered nurse Elaine Sherman, who was assaulted by a patient’s family members, while helping a fellow RN, who was also being attacked. “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.”
According to Sherman, her assault and incidents like it might have been prevented if her employer had more responsive security personnel in place, additional staffing on the units, and closer scrutiny of visitors—preventative measures that could be enfolded into violence prevention plans employers would be required to enact under HR 1309.
Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act Overview
- Addresses an epidemic of violence: Workers in the health care and social assistance industry face extremely high rates of workplace violence. Between 2011 and 2016, as reported in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, at least 58 hospital workers died as a result of violence in their workplaces. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office found that health care workers at inpatient facilities were 5 to 12 times more likely to experience nonfatal workplace violence than workers overall.
- Requires federal OSHA to create a federal workplace violence prevention standard mandating employers develop comprehensive, workplace-specific plans to prevent violence before it happens.
- Covers a wide variety of workplaces, including hospitals, residential treatment facilities, non-residential treatment settings, medical treatment or social service settings in correctional or detention facilities, psychiatric treatment facilities, substance use disorder treatment centers, community care settings such as group homes and mental health clinics, and federal health care facilities such as those operated by the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service, as well as field work settings such as home care and home-based hospice, and emergency services and transport services.
- 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, based on the groundbreaking California legislation. These requirements include unit-specific assessments and implementation of prevention measures, including physical changes to the environment, staffing for patient care and security, employee involvement in all steps of the plan, hands on training, robust record keeping requirements including a violent incident log, protections for employees to report WPV to their employer and law enforcement, among other requirements.
“We needed these protections yesterday—because violence doesn’t just impact workers, it also impacts patients, visitors, family members and anyone in the vicinity,” said Ross. “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.”