House Democrats Introduce Bill to Protect Health Care Workers from Violence on the Job
By Amy Blitchok
For those who don’t work in the nursing profession, it can come as a surprise to learn that health care and social services workers experience a greater rate of on-the-job violence than police officers or prison guards. According to statistics from 2016, health care workers were the victims of 70% of all violent workplace incidents. In addition, those who work directly with patients are 12 times more likely to experience violence than employees in other fields. Nurses, in particular, are often assaulted by patients and have to deal with subsequent injuries without the support of their employers.
All too often, employers simply view violence as part of the job and expect nurses and other health care workers to brush it off and keep on working. Some have even been punished for calling the police and bringing incidents to the attention of authorities.
Surprisingly, there are no existing federal laws in place to protect healthcare workers and require employers to abide by specific protocols when handling violent incidents although some states have taken the matter into their own hands and passed laws. California has set an example by passing the most comprehensive protection plan in the country. With a 110% rise in violent incidents between 2005 and 2014, it is clear that medical facilities and legislatures need to act to protect workers.
What the bill entails
On November 16th, House Democrats introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which is designed to address this problem and provide health care workers with added protections. For years, labor unions have been pushing for more laws to protect nurses and the government is finally responding with a bill that turns existing guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into binding law.
Here are some of the highlights from 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.
The bill is widely supported by OSHA, medical professional unions and organizations and members of Congress. Judy Danelle, a registered nurse in New Jersey had this to say about the proposed bill: “Recent patient violence against staff at my hospital 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.”
Hopefully, the bill will move through the legislative process quickly and create a workplace standard for preventing and handling violence in a way that protects workers while also allowing them to effectively perform their jobs and treat patients without being injured.
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