Nurses Applaud U.S. House of Representatives Passage of Legislation Protecting Health Care, Social Service Workers from Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act sets high standard to protect workers and patients

National Nurses United (NNU) today applauds the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of important federal legislation aimed at protecting health care and social services workers in places such as hospitals and clinics.

The House today passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195), sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), in a bipartisan vote. The bill mandates that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) create a federal standard requiring health care and social service employers to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.

“Today’s action by the House helps push this very important piece of legislation to the finish line. Nurses need to be protected when they’re on the job; their safety is important in its own right and it helps ensure optimal patient care,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN and a president of NNU. “We appreciate the House members who voted in favor of this very important legislation and urge them to encourage their colleagues in the Senate to do the same.”

“This is groundbreaking legislation that will hold health care and social service employers accountable for the safety of their workers,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN and executive director of NNU. “It’s time for employers to stop putting lives in danger. Everyone deserves to be safe in their workplace, and that includes hospitals, clinics, and social service settings that are so crucial now more than ever given the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.”

“We are grateful for the leadership of Rep. Courtney and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee, for spearheading this important legislation,” she continued.

Castillo recently authored an op-ed in The Hill publication about the importance of passing the federal legislation .

“We thank House members for passing this legislation, and now it’s up to the Senate to do the same,” said Jean Ross, RN and a president of NNU. “Now is the time to truly honor the health care and social service workers who have been on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic by giving them the workplace protections they so desperately need.”

“It is disgraceful that nurses are regularly subjected to violent attacks while we are at work,” said Deborah Burger, RN and a president of NNU. “This is not acceptable and it can be prevented if and only if employers are held to account by the federal government for ensuring a safe workplace. If nurses are at risk, that means patients are also at risk, and we applaud the House for recognizing this fact.”

The federal legislation is modeled after a groundbreaking California health care workplace violence standard that was the result of state legislation sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

A recent NNU survey found that 22 percent of nurses reported facing increased workplace violence on the job since the beginning of the pandemic, which they attribute to decreasing staffing levels, changes in the patient population, and visitor restrictions.

More specifics of Rep. Courtney’s federal legislation (H.R. 1195):

  • 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 health care 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 workplace violence to their employer and law enforcement, among other requirements.
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