Press Release

NNU Nurse Speaks at Release of New GAO Report on Workplace Violence Prevention in Healthcare

Today, National Nurses United joined members of Congress to speak out at a Washington, DC press conference unveiling findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s new report on workplace violence prevention in healthcare.

GAO conducted the study over the course of nearly two years, to evaluate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s efforts to protect healthcare workers from workplace violence. After establishing that healthcare workers experience 5 to 12 times more violence than other workers and that those rates are increasing, the report recommends that OSHA provide additional information to inspectors on how to develop evidence to cite employers on workplace violence hazards, establish a centralized policy to follow up on hazard alert letters, and assess the results of the agency’s current efforts to address workplace violence.

Where the report falls short, however, say nurses, is in calling for federal OSHA regulations mandating that healthcare employers have a workplace violence prevention plan.

“We commend the GAO for producing a report on this critical issue. The study addresses physical assault by exploring state laws mandating prevention—which is so important because prevention keeps the focus on stopping violence before it occurs,” said Bonnie Castillo, NNU Director of Health and Safety. “What is missing from this report, however, is a recommendation—at the federal level—for clearly outlined, strong regulations that would mandate that healthcare employers have a workplace violence prevention plan. We need these federal regulations now, because if nurses’ lives are at stake, how are they supposed to keep their patients’ safe?”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfatal injuries due to workplace violence experienced by healthcare workers increased by 12 percent in recent years.

“Workplace violence is a serious occupational hazard, which is why NNU has been fighting for workplace violence protections for years—in California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and other states. Last year, nurses in California won a landmark law that mandates all hospitals to implement workplace violence prevention plans as enforced by California-OSHA,” Castillo said. “But not all states have their own OSHA program to do enforcement. To fully protect all healthcare workers in the nation, we need a strong federal OSHA standard requiring workplace violence prevention plans in all hospitals and healthcare facilities. And we need it now.”

California’s mandatory workplace violence regulations, requiring hospitals to have a facility-specific prevention plan, will be fully finalized within the next few months. In California and Nevada, NNU nurses have also fought for and won supplemental insurance protection for registered nurses injured in workplace assaults or injuries.

“Workplace violence should not be part of the job, and it doesn’t have to be,” said Brandy Welch, RN, an NNU general pediatric nurse from Long Beach, Calif. who will be speaking, along with other healthcare workers, at the GAO report release. “Workplace violence prevention standards, like the upcoming regulations in California, require employers to identify risk factors and implement engineering controls to correct them.”

Click here for a transcript of Brandy Welch's testimony

Welch, who suffered a permanent right arm injury when a teenage patient threw a chair at her last October, said that had regulations been in place at the time—her injury may have been prevented.

“In this incident, I reacted the only way I knew how—I had not been trained in de-escalation techniques or strategies for avoiding physical harm,” said Welch. “California’s workplace violence standards will require employers to provide training for all employees, so that we know how to handle aggressive behavior and violent situations.”

Welch said with an injury that will now span her entire career and beyond, she is heading to DC to speak on the importance of mandatory, federal provisions being put in place to protect all nurses and healthcare workers, across the country.

“I am so proud that the work of my union—National Nurses United—has resulted in strong workplace violence standards for healthcare workers in California. I will feel much safer at work once these standards have been implemented,” said Welch. “But it is not enough. It is time for a strong national standard to protect all employees from workplace violence, not just those in California. We need to guarantee that workplace violence is not a ‘part of the job.’”