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Journal Inquirer: Bill introduced to protect health care, social service workers from violence

November 21, 2018
In The News

U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, D-2nd District, recently introduced legislation aimed at reducing increasing rates of on-the-job violence experienced by health care and social service workers.

The “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act” directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to protect employees from violent incidents.

In a release announcing the legislation, Courtney, a senior member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said that each year, health care and social service workers face violence, often from patients and their families.

“This legislation compels OSHA to do what employees, safety experts, and members of Congress have been calling for for years, to create an enforceable standard to ensure that employers are taking these risks seriously, and creating safe workplaces that their employees deserve,” he said.

According to the release, a 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office study found that rates of violence against health care workers are up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce, and 70 percent of nonfatal workplace assaults in 2016 occurred in the health care and social assistance sectors.

The release also said that recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a “sharp increase” in serious injuries as a result of workplace violence among health care workers last year.

“Front line employees in these settings interact with a range of patients, clients, and their families, often with little training or direction for how to prevent or handle interactions that become violent,” the release said.

According to the release, the introduced legislation would ensure that health care and social service workplaces adopt “proven prevention techniques and are prepared to respond in the tragic event of a violent incident.”

In 2013, Courtney asked the GAO to study trends in health care workplace violence and identify options for OSHA to curtail it, the release says. In 2015, Courtney and other members asked OSHA to develop a workplace safety standard to protect health care workers from rising on-the-job violence. OSHA had agreed to undertake rulemaking on health care workplace violence, but action has stalled under the Trump administration.

Several health care and social service workers, unions, and other organizations applauded the legislation, including Helene Andrews, a registered nurse from Newtown.

Andrews said that during her last eight years of work, she suffered three assaults, which resulted in three major surgeries, lengthy recoveries, and residual pain and disabilities that she’s still dealing with.

“Preventing violent workplace injuries should be given the highest priority, and I salute Rep. Joe Courtney for his efforts,” she said.