Advocates for workplace protections for health care and social services employees celebrated outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Thursday after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would require national protection standards against workplace violence.
“Sadly, in America today, nurses, doctors, social workers, EMTs and nursing assistants are more likely to be the victims of on-the-job violence than any sector of our nation’s workforce,” said Democrat Rep. Joe Courtney, sponsor of the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.
“It affects a worker’s sense of safety at work, it contributes to burnout, absenteeism, high worker compensation costs and stress,” said Courtney, who represents Connecticut’s 2nd District.
The bill, H.R. 1309, would require hospitals, facilities and other employers to develop adequate workplace violence prevention plans to reduce the number of assaults that may result in physical injury, psychological trauma or stress.
Courtney and other legislators spoke of far too many assaults that have involved kicking, hitting, choking and spitting by patients, clients, residents and visitors.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 30,450 nonfatal instances of people inflicting injury or other violence on workers across all private-sector industries in 2018, instances that resulted in workers having to take time off.
Among those cases, 71% happened to people who work in health care and social assistance.
Courtney said if the bill becomes law, it will afford hospitals, treatment centers, clinics and service operators the flexibility to create prevention plans tailored to their specific workplace risks and hazards.
Plans might involve security and alarm systems, training and education around identifying high-risk situations, monitoring systems and procedures, reporting practices, investigation techniques and more.
The bill passed with 251 votes in favor, but Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina was among the 158 legislators who opposed it.
Foxx said while health care and social services workers “deserve to be kept out of harm’s way,” she called the bill shortsighted, costly and burdensome.
“Simply put, financially struggling health care facilities such as rural hospitals and small businesses cannot afford another costly congressionally imposed mandate from Washington,” Foxx said on the House floor.
A mandate of this kind isn’t needed, she said, as a majority of facilities already have violence prevention plans and policies in place. But Zenei Cortez, a registered nurse and president of the National Nurses United union, disagreed.
“Workplace violence in our facilities is an epidemic, and this epidemic not only threatens our workers, but also threatens our patients and their families,” Cortez said. “When violence happens, our employers often try to sweep it under the rug. They downplay the dangers the violence poses to our workers and our patients.”
Supporters said they’ll now focus their efforts on getting the Senate to pass a version of the bill.