A group of House Democrats introduced a bill on Friday to help protect millions of nurses and other health care workers from the high rates of violence they experience on the job.
The new bill, called the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, would require hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers, mental health providers, and jails to develop a workplace safety plan to protect their workers from violence they experience at the hands of patients — a surprisingly common phenomenon. The bill would also require employers to record and investigate all complaints of violence, and prohibits retaliation against employees who call 911.
In 2016, health care and social service workers suffered 69 percent of all workplace violence injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and were nearly five times more likely to experience violence on the job than the average US worker. They are more likely to get injured at work than even police officers and prison guards. Nurses suffer in particular.
“Registered nurses are often threatened, punched, kicked, beaten, and assaulted on the job, sometimes with deadly consequences,” said Jean Ross, a registered nurse and co-president of the National Nurses United labor union, in a statement to Vox. The union has been pushing for federal legislation for years.
The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), would essentially turn into law current guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the Department of Labor. A hospital’s violence prevention plan could involve hiring more security guards, installing surveillance cameras, and training staff in how to respond to violent incidents.
The rule covers all employees, whether hired directly by a hospital or employed as subcontractors.
Violence against health care workers is a national problem
There are currently no federal rules that require that hospitals attempt to protect nurses from violence in the workplace, though some states have passed them on their own. In October 2016, California passed the toughest rules in the country, requiring health care employers to develop tailored violence prevention plans for each workplace with employees’ input. But the problem is not unique to California.