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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

After 7-Year Effort, House Votes to Pass Rep. Courtney’s Bill to Curb Workplace Violence Against Health Care and Social Service Workers

November 21, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), a senior Member of the House Education & Labor Committee, cast his vote to help pass his bill, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), legislation that directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue new standards requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to prevent and protect employees from violent incidents and assaults at work. The bipartisan legislation is co-sponsored by Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee, Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and 226 other Members of Congress. The House voted to pass H.R. 1309 on a bipartisan basis by a margin of 251-158.

Passage of Rep. Courtney’s H.R. 1309 today is the culmination of a seven-year effort that began in 2013, when Courtney first requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study trends of workplace violence in the health care sector and identify options for OSHA to curtail it. Since then, Congressman Courtney has worked with a host of health care and social service professionals to build support for this effort and to advance H.R. 1309.

Following today’s passage of H.R. 1309, Congressman Courtney will host a gathering of health care and social service professionals for a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Courtney will be joined by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the lead sponsor of S. 851, H.R. 1309’s Senate companion. Click here to watch the live stream on Rep. Courtney’s Facebook page.

“Workplace assaults against nurses, health care professionals, and social service workers occur more often than in any other profession,” said Congressman Courtney. “These are some of the same people we depend on to take care of us when we need it most, and they shouldn’t have to fear for their own lives while they’re at work trying to save ours. For years, our partners and I have worked together to advance this bill in order to finally take steps curb the national epidemic of workplace violence and on-the-job assaults in the health care industry. From the Connecticut Nurses Association, to National Nurses United to the health care professionals like at AFT Connecticut, and many more, our partners know all too well the severity, frequency, and devastating impact of workplace violence, and they’ve been integral in pushing this effort across the finish line. H.R. 1309 was written and introduced on their behalf, and it’s thanks to them that we’re celebrating its passage in the House today.

“Our diverse coalition has worked together and across the aisle towards this vote, and all the while more devastating stories of on-the-job assaults from across the country have continued to come in. This is a national epidemic, and it’s ongoing. Passage of my bill in the House today is an important step forward in this effort to curb workplace violence, but it’s not the last step. I’m calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow his colleagues to debate and vote on H.R. 1309’s Senate companion, S. 851, and to not allow this critical bill to be added to the Senate’s ever-growing backlog of House-passed legislation.”

“Most acts of workplace violence in health care facilities are foreseeable and preventable by implementing workplace violence prevention plans.  Although OSHA and the Joint Commission have issued authoritative guidance, voluntary efforts alone are not enough to ensure the safety of these workers,” said Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03). “Health care and social service workers play a critical role in the health of our families and our communities.  At the very least, we must do whatever we can to ensure that these workers can come home uninjured at the end of the workday. I am grateful to Representative Joe Courtney and Representative Alma Adams for their leadership in advancing this legislation.”

"Health care and social service workers, especially women, are at greatest risk of violence on the job because they are on the front line as our caretakers," said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. "This bill is about protecting their lives, and every single senator should follow the House’s lead and be clamoring to vote for this critical, life-saving legislation."

“National Nurses United applauds the House of Representatives for passing legislation today that will keep nurses, health care workers, and social service workers safe. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act will hold our employers accountable for having a prevention plan in place to stop workplace violence before it occurs. This is literally a life or death issue for our nurses, who are constantly at risk of violence in their workplaces. Every moment we wait to pass this bill into law puts lives in jeopardy. We all deserve to feel safe in hospitals, clinics and social service settings, which should be places of healing. We applaud Congressman Joe Courtney for his leadership on this bill, and look forward to working to pass this bill in the Senate.” – Zenei Cortez, RN, president, National Nurses United

"Today, the House of Representatives sent a strong message that violence on the job is not inevitable or acceptable for the millions of healthcare professionals who provide care in our communities but increasingly find themselves subject to workplace attacks,” said Randi Weingarten, President of AFT. "I applaud Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) for his tireless efforts to move the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act to passage. As this bipartisan legislation moves to the Senate, I strongly urge legislators to recognize that workplace safety is not a partisan issue but rather a human right." 

“Every year, hundreds of nurses, social workers and others are killed, and thousands are injured, due to workplace violence incidents,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “The cost of inaction is too high, and we can no longer allow employers to skirt their duties to protect employees who step up every day to keep us safe, care for our loved ones and make our communities strong and healthy. Our health care and social service workers deserve to be safe at work and to go home to their families at the end of the day. We celebrate the passage of this bill as a major step forward in ensuring that workers are protected and urge the Senate to take this bill up.”

“This is common sense legislation that American workers badly need,” said United Steelworkers (USW) International President Tom Conway. “Activists from across the USW collected more than 80,000 signatures in support of this bill because they understand that health care and social service workers, like all workers, deserve to be safe on the job.”   

"SEIU members across all healthcare and social service settings want to thank Representative Joe Courtney and his colleagues for passing HR 1309. Everyone —no matter what they do or where they work— should have the right to safety on the job. HR1309 recognizes that a safe and violence-free workplace is essential for delivering high-quality care and service and helps dispel the myth that workplace violence is just "part of the job."  Martha Baker, RN – Chairperson, Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare  

Background

Incidents of violence against health care and social service workers are on the rise. A 2016 GAO study reported that rates of violence against health care workers are up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce, and 70% of nonfatal workplace assaults in 2016 occurred in the health care and social assistance sectors. 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 Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care and Social Services Act 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 requested that the GAO study the trends in healthcare workplace violence and identify options for OSHA to curtail it, and in 2016 he and other members asked OSHA to develop a workplace safety standard to protect health care workers from this rising violence. In recent years, OSHA agreed to undergo rulemaking on health care workplace violence, but action has stalled under the Trump Administration. In the absence of voluntary action from OSHA, this legislation is necessary to ensure that nurses, doctors, medical assistants, emergency personnel, and social service workers are not subjected to needless preventable acts of violence on the job.  

Congressman Courtney first introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act in 2018, and reintroduced the bill in the 116th Congress in February of 2019. Upon introduction Courtney’s bill drew support from a host of health care and social service professionals, as well as from unions representing workers in these sectors. Supporting organizations include AFL-CIO, American Industrial Hygiene Association, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Art Therapy Association, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Counseling Association, American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Society of Safety Professionals, Coalition of Labor Union Women of Southwestern PA, Communications Workers of America, Connecticut Association of Nurse Anesthetists, ElevatingHOME, Emergency Nurses Association, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Michigan Nurses Association, Midstate Education and Service Foundation, National Association of County Behavioral Health & Development Disability Directors, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, National Association of Rural Mental Health, National Association of Social Workers, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, National Nurses United, New York Nurses Association, Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, Public Citizen, Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, School Social Work Association of America, SEIU, Smart Transportation, Teamsters, UAW, United Steelworkers, United Steelworkers, and Worksafe.

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