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Congressman Courtney’s Remarks at the House Education & Labor Committee Markup of H.R. 1195, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act

March 24, 2021
Press Release

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Chairman Scott, for convening today’s markup and for taking action on this bill early in the 117th Congress. As you know, this legislation passed the House of Representatives last session in bipartisan fashion, after this Committee held a legislative hearing to discuss this issue with social workers, health care workers, and subject matter experts, as well as a mark up to advance the bill.

The Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute will make three main changes to H.R. 1195:

  • Strikes the findings section
  • Provides that Executive Order 12866 –involving regulatory review—does not apply to the Interim Final Standard.
  • Clarifies the criteria in the final standard to ensure that while it must be no less protective than a state OSHA plan for workplace violence, the standard must be determined by the  Secretary of Labor to be feasible

I have now been tracking the issue of violence against health care workers for nearly eight years. In that time, several Presidential administrations have come and gone, and still this problem remains inadequately addressed, despite widespread agreement that a standard is needed.

Health care and social service workers will continue to suffer increasing rates of violence at work, by the tens of thousands, every year we fail to enact this bill.

Every person who has worked in a hospital, or as a psychiatric aide, a social worker, or emergency responder knows how pervasive this problem is, and how it affects their ability to do their jobs. The primary source of this violence comes in the form of assaults: kicking, hitting, spitting, verbal threats from patients, residents, and clients, or those who accompany them.  In addition to the often-serious physical injuries, it affects worker’s sense of safety at work, contributes to burnout, turnover, high workers’ compensation costs, and stress.

This past year, health care workers have received universal praise for the work they have done, in dangerous conditions, to care for our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their working conditions, and the hazards they face may have never had such nationwide attention and sympathy. But long after COVID-19 is controlled, these workers will continue to face dangers of preventable violence at work unless this bill is enacted. Even throughout the pandemic these workers have reported a continuation of this routine violence, and even an increase, according to the National Nurses United.

In 2013, this Committee started oversight of this problem, and requested a report from the GAO to determine how pervasive this violence is, and what strategies are at our disposal to reverse the trend. The report found that workers in health care facilities experience substantially higher rates of nonfatal injury due to violence in the workplace compared to workers overall.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care and social service workers are nearly five times more likely to suffer a serious injury from workplace violence than workers in other settings. Up to 30% of hospital workers report being assaulted at work. For employees in psychiatric hospitals that number is drastically higher. Nearly 50% of emergency room physicians have been physically assaulted at work, and 80% report that this violence effects patient care.

These events should not be part of the job. They should not be a daily, weekly, or monthly occurrence. But unfortunately, the data shows us otherwise. Between 2006 and 2019, there was a nearly 60% increase in violent incidents that occurred in health care and social service workplaces that resulted in employees being away from work.

Since 1996 OSHA has published voluntary guidelines that recommend commonsense preventive measures that employers can take to reduce the risk and severity of violent incidents. These were last updated in 2015.

While these OSHA Guidelines are an excellent resource, the fact that we continue to see a growth in violence means that voluntary actions alone are not enough.

In order to ensure that the OSHA Guidelines are adopted and implemented, we need to provide OSHA with an enforceable standard.

The standard required by the legislation would require that covered employers, such as hospitals and psychiatric treatment facilities, develop a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan that is tailored to the specific conditions and hazards present at each workplace.

I’d like to emphasize that this standard is far from “one size fits all” and instead explicitly requires that the violence prevention plans be “tailored to the specific conditions and hazards for each facility.”

While we will never eliminate all risk, or stop every violent attack, research on the measures in this legislation have been shown to substantially mitigate risk of serious injury from preventable acts of violence.

I would like to thank the many researchers, professional and medical societies, union representatives and individual workers who contributed to this legislation as well as Subcommittee Chair Alma Adams and Chairman Scott for their commitment to this legislation.

I urge a yes vote on the Amendment in a Nature of a Substitute.

I yield back.