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Lawmaker seeks OSHA standard on preventing workplace violence in health care, social services

female nurse
Photo: jacoblund/iStockphoto

Washington — In an effort to help stem the rising rate of workplace violence against health care and social service workers, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) has proposed legislation that would direct OSHA to issue a standard requiring employers in those industries to develop and implement workplace violence prevention plans.

The bill (H.R. 7141) was introduced in the House on Nov. 16.

The rate of violence against health care workers is up to 12 times higher than those of the overall workforce, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office study. Additionally, in 2016, 70 percent of nonfatal workplace assaults occurred in the health care and social assistance sectors.

“We expect health care and social services employees to care for us in our times for need,” Courtney said in a press release, “but we know that each year these men and women are faced with rising rates of violence, often from patients and their families. This legislation compels OSHA to … create an enforceable standard to ensure that employers are taking these risks seriously, and creating safe workplaces that their employees deserve.”

The American Federation of Teachers hailed the legislation, which is co-sponsored by 22 other House Democrats.

“No one should face violence, intimidation or fear for their safety while they’re on the job,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a Nov. 16 press release. “As a union of health care professionals, educators and public employees, we welcome this legislation because it outlines protections and specific safety standards for the people who care for the sick, treat the injured and work in other front-line care jobs.”

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, supports the use of prevention programs.

“Studies have shown that the frequency and severity of violent attacks can be drastically reduced through comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs,” NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo said in a Nov. 16 press release. “We applaud Rep. Courtney for introducing a bill that is so critical, not just for nurses and other health care workers, but also for patients, families and visitors, given that violence impacts everyone in the vicinity of health care and social service settings.”

In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data showing that employers reported 2.8 million work-related injuries in 2017. The AFL-CIO, however, argues that because employers typically underreport injuries, this number “underestimates the problem.”

“The real number of injuries and illnesses is likely to be two to three times as great,” AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario said in a release.

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