United States Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) has introduced a bill that would require OSHA to issue a workplace violence prevention standard for the health care industry.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, H.R. 7141, directs OSHA to issue a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to protect employees such as nurses, physicians, emergency responders, medical assistants, and social service workers from violent incidents.

Rising rates of violence

“We expect health care and social service employees to care for us in our times of need, but we know that each year, these men and women are faced with rising rates of violence, often from patients and their families,” said Courtney, a senior member of the House Education and Workforce Committee. “This legislation compels OSHA to do what employees, safety experts, and Members of Congress have been calling for years – create an enforceable standard to ensure that employers are taking these risks seriously, and creating safe workplaces that their employees deserve.”

2016 GAO study reported that rates of violence against health care workers are up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce, and 70% of nonfatal workplace assaults in 2016 occurred in the health care and social assistance sectors. Recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a sharp increase in serious injuries as a result of workplace violence among health care workers last year. Front line employees in these settings interact with a range of patients, clients, and their families, often with little training or direction for how to prevent or handle interactions that become violent.

Key provisions of the bill:

  • Hospitals and other medical facilities will be required to create a safety plan so that there is a clear protocol in place when patients become violent.
  • Employers will be required to follow-up on and investigate any incidents of violence.
  • Employees who call 911 will be protected against any professional punishment or retaliation.
  • Hospitals will be required to look at ways to improve security that could include adding more security guards and surveillance cameras.
  • Staff will be trained on how to respond to violent patients.

Inaction by OSHA cited

Supporters of the bill say that it is necessary due to OSHA’s lack of action on the problem. Courtney in 2013 requested that the Government Accountability Office study the trends in healthcare workplace violence and identify options for OSHA to curtail it, and in 2015 he and other members asked OSHA to develop a workplace safety standard to protect health care workers from this rising violence. In recent years, OSHA agreed to undergo rulemaking on health care workplace violence, but action has stalled under the Trump Administration.

Broken jaws, long recoveries

Health care professionals have been quick to express their support of the measure.

Judy Danella, a registered nurse who works at a hospital in New Jersey, said recent patient violence in her workplace has led to nurses with broken jaws, open facial wounds, back injuries requiring surgery, and injuries from a chair being smashed over a nurse’s head. “Injuries from combative patients shouldn’t just be part of the job. Health care workers need strong protections so they can provide quality patient care without fear of violence and injury.”

Helene Andrews, an RN from Newtown, Connecticut, said she was the victim of workplace violence three times during eight years of employment. “The three assaults resulted in three major surgeries and in lengthy and painful recoveries each time.  I suffered for months with each injury and still have residual pain and disabilities.  Preventing violent workplace injuries should be given the highest priority, and I salute Rep. Joe Courtney for his efforts." 

The measure is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Government Employees, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Nurses United, United Steelworkers, American Federation of Teachers and Public Citizen.  

Original cosponsors of the bill are Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Ranking Member of the House Education and Worforce Committee; Mark Takano, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections; Suzanne Bonamici; Robert A. Brady; Rosa DeLauro; Eleanor Holmes Norton; Sheila Jackson Lee; Ro Khanna; Jan Schakowsky; Frederica Wilson;Carol Shea-Porter; Albio Sires; Mark DeSaulnier; John B. Larson; Donald Payne Jr.; Jim Himes; Mark Pocan; David N. Cicilline; Adriano Espaillat and Donald Norcross.

Click here for a Section by Section of the legislation. 

Click here for bill text.