Bill to protect health care, social services workers from violence advances out of House committee
Washington — Legislation that would direct OSHA to issue a standard requiring employers in health care and social services industries to develop and implement workplace violence prevention plans was voted out of the House Education and Labor Committee on June 11, and now advances to the full House.
The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Workers Act (H.R. 1309) seeks an enforceable federal standard to disrupt the growing level of violence against nurses, physicians, social workers, emergency responders and other caregivers, bill sponsor Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) said during a markup hearing before the committee voted on the bill.
“Every person who has worked in a hospital as a psychiatric aide, a social worker or emergency responder knows how serious and pervasive this problem is and how it affects their ability to do their jobs,” Courtney said. “These events shouldn’t be part of the job.”
Courtney cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed intentional injuries sustained by health and social assistance workers occurred at a rate of 9.1 per 10,000 workers in 2017. For all private industry, that rate was 1.9.
The bill would offer protections to public-sector workers in the states not under OSHA oversight while calling on employers to identify risks; specify solutions; and require training, reporting and incident investigations. The legislation also would require an interim final OSHA standard one year after enactment and the completion of a final standard within 42 months.
“These are not radical, impractical, infeasible or unaffordable requirements,” Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) said during the hearing. “The least we can do is ensure that [these workers] come home safe at the end of their workday.”
Courtney quoted Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic from the health system’s Feb. 28 State of the Clinic address, during which Mihaljevic revealed that 30,000 weapons were confiscated from patients and visitors in 2018 at its northeast Ohio facilities.
National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses with more than 150,000 members, applauded the bill’s advancement in a June 11 press release.
“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,” NNU President Jean Ross said in the release. “We urge House leadership to schedule a vote on the floor … as soon as possible, because every moment we lose puts life in jeopardy.”
The bill has 173 co-sponsors, including three Republican lawmakers.
However, two Republicans on the committee were among the bill’s dissenters. They expressed concern during the hearing about circumventing OSHA’s normal rulemaking process.
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), who is a physician, shared an American Hospital Association statement opposing H.R. 1309, citing concerns about the legislation creating duplicate anti-workplace violence measures for health care facilities that already have them in place and allowing only a limited opportunity for the public and stakeholders to review and comment on the bill.
“No one is more interested in having a safe workplace more than the hospitals,” Roe said. “What’s the hurry? Why don’t we do this in a bipartisan way? We could have the American Hospital Association in to testify and see what their issues are. That’s what I would recommend.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) added, “Health care workers are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath: ‘First do no harm.’ In its rush to judgment, H.R. 1309 does great harm by short-circuiting the public input process and prescribing a specific end result from the beginning.”