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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Courtney Introduces Legislation to Reduce Violence Against Health Care and Social Service Workers

November 16, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney, (CT-02), a senior member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced legislation aimed at curtailing rising rates of on the job violence facing health care and social service employees such as nurses, physicians, emergency responders, medical assistants, and social service workers. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, H.R. 7141, directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to prevent and protect employees from violent incidents. 

“We expect health care and social service employees to care for us in our times of need, but we know that each year, these men and women are faced with rising rates of violence, often from patients and their families,” said Courtney. “This legislation compels OSHA to do what employees, safety experts, and Members of Congress have been calling for years – create an enforceable standard to ensure that employers are taking these risks seriously, and creating safe workplaces that their employees deserve.”  

“Workplace violence against health care and social service workers continues to affect those who dedicate their lives to caring for others,” said Bobby Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. “This bill helps address this growing problem by requiring  the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set an enforceable standard that will protect workers from preventable acts of workplace violence. I am grateful to Rep. Courtney for his leadership on this bill and will work to give this legislation the urgent attention that it deserves.”  

The Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care and Social Services Act is endorsed by American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, American Federation of Government Employees, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Nurses United, United Steelworkers, and Public Citizen.  

Original cosponsors of the bill introduced today are Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Ranking Member of the House Education and Worforce Committee; Mark Takano, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections; Suzanne Bonamici; Robert A. Brady; Rosa DeLauro; Eleanor Holmes Norton; Sheila Jackson Lee; Ro Khanna; Jan Schakowsky; Frederica Wilson;Carol Shea-Porter; Albio Sires; Mark DeSaulnier; John B. Larson; Donald Payne Jr.; Jim Himes; Mark Pocan; David N. Cicilline; Adriano Espaillat and Donald Norcross.

Click here for a Section by Section of the legislation. 

Click here for bill text.  

Background 

Incidents of violence against health care and social service workers is 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 Government Accountability Office study the trends in healthcare workplace violence and identify options for OSHA to curtail it, and in 2015 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.  

Support for the Legislation: 

"I am pleased that Representative Joe Courtney has introduced legislation to reduce workplace violence. Legislation to protect healthcare and social service workers from violence is long overdue,” said Helene Andrews, RN of Newtown, CT. “During the last eight years that I worked, I was assaulted three times, including on my last day of work. The three assaults resulted in three major surgeries and in lengthy and painful recoveries each time.  I suffered for months with each injury and still have residual pain and disabilities.  Preventing violent workplace injuries should be given the highest priority, and I salute Rep. Joe Courtney for his efforts." 

“Recent patient violence against staff at my hospital has led to nurses with broken jaws, open facial wounds, back injuries requiring surgery, and injuries from a chair being smashed over a nurse’s head,” said Judy Danella, a registered nurse and member of the United Steelworkers union at a hospital in New Jersey. “Injuries from combative patients shouldn’t just be part of the job. Health care workers need strong protections so they can provide quality patient care without fear of violence and injury.”  

“As a union of healthcare professionals and educators, we welcome this legislation as it outlines  protections and specific safety standards for the people who care for the sick, treat the injured, and work in other front line care jobs. Millions of Americans in the healthcare profession go to work every day care for the sick, the elderly and mentally ill, yet they don’t feel safe or protected themselves from the preventable and often tragic workplace-related assaults that occur in hospitals and other healthcare-related settings.  With this bill, we can change that," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.  

“This bill shatters the dangerous myth that workplace violence is essentially random, unpredictable and therefore unavoidable. We applaud Congressmen Scott and Courtney for pressing for a federal OSHA standard that will call upon employers to identify the clear patterns and risk factors that put mental health professionals, hospital and EMS workers, and too many others at a high risk of experiencing workplace violence. AFSCME members in these professions work hard every day to make their communities healthier and stronger, and for that they deserve respect and protection on the job,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. 

“We applaud Rep. Courtney and the cosponsors of the Health Care and Social Service Workers Act for listening to the concerns of workers and moving forward with legislation that will prevent injuries and save lives,” said Co-President of National Nurses United, Jean Ross, RN. “Registered Nurses are often threatened, punched, kicked, beaten, and assaulted on the job, sometimes with deadly consequences. Many of these incidents would be preventable if this legislation was enacted. Under this proposed federal standard, employers would need to develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans that are implemented at all times, and ensure that health care and social service workers are directly involved in the development, implementation and assessment of these plans. We look forward to working with Congress to pass this legislation and ensure a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard to protect health care and social service workers and our patients, clients and their families.” 

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