Bill to protect health care, social services workers from violence passes House vote
Washington — The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Workers Act (H.R. 1309) passed out of the House Nov. 21 by a 251-159 vote.
Sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), the bill seeks an enforceable federal standard to halt the growing level of violence against nurses, physicians, social workers, emergency responders and other caregivers. The legislation would direct OSHA to develop and implement an interim standard within one year of enactment and complete a final standard within 42 months. It also would require health care and social services employers to implement a workplace violence prevention plan.
“This affects every single health care facility,” Courtney said during a press conference after the vote. “We all rely on people who work in these professions. The severity of the problem is sickening and gut-wrenching. This vote today, 32 Republicans joined us. That is extraordinary. This is an issue that crosses party lines, crosses regions.”
The bill also is aimed at protecting workers against retaliation from employers when reporting incidents of violence and would mandate that incidents of violence be tracked.
Citing a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office, Courtney said rates of nonfatal workplace violence against health care workers in private sector and state inpatient facilities were five to 12 times higher than the estimated rates for workers overall, depending on the type of facility.
Courtney notes the rise in violence has mirrored the nation’s heroin, opioid and mental health crises.
“We have taken a giant leap forward to end the epidemic of workplace violence in health care and social services,” Zenei Cortez, president of National Nurses United, the largest union of nurses in the United States, said during the press conference. “We are heartened that this bill enjoyed so much bipartisan support.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) called the bill “rushed and haphazard legislation” that bypasses ongoing work by OSHA to produce a workplace violence standard, as well as limits input from the public and small health care facilities that could face financial hardships because of the act. “Congress should aid in the rulemaking process, not circumvent it,” she said.
Citing OSHA’s “atrocious” record of producing standards and its average timeline of seven years, Courtney offered the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000 as a precedent for OSHA to act quickly on a threat to health care workers. The act directed OSHA to create the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (1910.1030) and called for an interim rule within one year and a final rule in two years. Courtney said he did not want to wait decades for OSHA to act on workplace violence in health care.
“OSHA is an act of Congress,” Courtney said. “We’re a safer country because Congress stepped in (on bloodborne pathogens).”
The bill now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces a stiffer hurdle for passage. In addition, during a rules committee hearing on the bill earlier in the week, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) shared a policy statement from the Trump administration that states that if the bill reaches the president in its current form, Trump’s advisors “would recommend a veto.”