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Courtney Re-Introduces Bill to Curb Rising Rates of Violence Against Health Care and Social Service Workers Amid COVID-19

February 22, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC—Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee, re-introduced legislation to the 117th Congress today that would curb the rising rates of workplace violence facing health care and social service employees such as nurses, emergency responders, medical assistants, physicians, and social workers. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act is supported by a bipartisan coalition of original co-sponsors including Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02), Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, Rep. Don Young (AK-At Large), Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04). The legislation has also received support from a host of health care and social service professionals, as well as unions representing workers in these sectors.

Amid rising rates of workplace violence against health care and social service workers—an epidemic that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—the bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue standards requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to prevent and protect employees from assaults at work. Courtney introduced similar legislation to the 116th Congress (H.R. 1309), which passed the House with bipartisan support.

“Health care and social workers have been waiting for years, long before COVID, to have their safety taken seriously while they’re working hard to ensure everyone else’s,” said Congressman Courtney. “This workforce faces more on-the-job violence than any other sector in the American economy and the rates have been on the rise for years, even during the COVID-19 crisis. These incidents are predictable and preventable, and it’s time we ensure workplaces take the steps we know work to avoid them. This is an extremely flexible and bipartisan proposal, and it’s driven by the very workers who are most at risk. I’m grateful for the support of our bipartisan coalition, and especially for the support of nurses, doctors, EMTs, social service workers, and others who have helped us drive this bill farther and farther ahead. We’re ready to work hard to move this effort across the finish line in the 117th Congress.”

“Health care and social service workers are routinely subjected to threats, assaults, and injury from foreseeable and preventable acts of workplace violence at rates that significantly exceed all other professions,” said Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Committee on Education and Labor. “This bill strengthens protections for these frontline workers by requiring that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue an enforceable standard within 42 months of enactment that ensures employers adopt plans to address preventable acts of workplace violence.  I am grateful to Rep. Courtney for his leadership on this bill and his continued commitment to the safety of our health and social service workers.

“Our healthcare and social service workers deserve to be protected from violence at the workplace.  This legislation will install best practices and other security measures to prevent and protect them from attacks by patients and family members,” said Congressman Bacon. “During this pandemic, we have seen a rise in attacks against healthcare workers by patients and family members, making it both difficult and dangerous to do their jobs.”

“Health care and social service workers face disproportionate rates of workplace violence,” said Congresswoman Adams. “The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act sends the message that ‘enough is enough’ — setting a national standard that forces employers to take seriously the health and safety of American workers, especially those working on the front lines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to stand with Rep. Courtney and Chairman Scott in support of this effort, and look forward to its swift consideration by the House and Senate.”

"Protecting the safety of America's nurses is not just good policy, it is personal to me. My wife Anne was herself a nurse, so we must ensure that the countless nurses and social workers who take care of us have the support they need to do their jobs safely," said Congressman Young. "The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed our health care systems and created new workplace hazards for our nurses. It is more urgent than ever to send a strong showing of support for these dedicated professionals. I am very proud to introduce the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act with my good friend, Congressman Joe Courtney. This bill is an important component to preventing violence against our nurses and social workers, and I am thankful for the Alaska Nurses Association's continued partnership on this crucial effort. Supporting our nation's caregivers, particularly amid a public health emergency, continues to be one of my highest priorities, and I will keep working to ensure they have the resources and protections necessary to provide compassionate care to our nation's patients.”

Incidents of violence against health care and social service workers is on the rise and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018 found a sharp increase in serious injuries because of workplace violence among health care workers. A 2020 survey of registered nurses conducted by National Nurses United (NNU) found that 20% of registered nurses reported increased workplace violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Front line employees in these settings interact with a range of patients and clients, 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 2016 he and other members asked OSHA to develop a workplace safety standard to protect health care workers from this rising violence. OSHA agreed to undergo rulemaking on health care workplace violence, but action stalled under the previous 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.

In 2019, during the 116th Congress, Courtney’s Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care and Social Services Act passed the House with bipartisan support by a margin of 251-158. The bill was not voted on by the Senate. Since then the epidemic of violence against health care and social service workers has continued nationwide. On Sunday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune announced its support for Rep. Courtney’s bill following a deadly shooting at a health clinic in Buffalo, MN.

Upon introduction today, Congressman Courtney’s Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act received support from a host of health care and social service professionals, as well as unions representing workers in these sectors. A full list of supporting organizations and their endorsements can be viewed below:

Liz Shuler – Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO: "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. This bill is about protecting their lives, and every single representative should support this critical, life-saving legislation."

Lee Saunders – President, AFSCME: “Every single day, nurses, corrections officers, social workers, child protection investigators, behavioral health professionals and others face the very real threat of workplace. Protecting our public service workers, who perform their jobs with grit and courage – and never more so than during the last year of this pandemic – is a matter of the greatest urgency. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that our everyday heroes are able to strengthen their communities without fear of assault and bodily harm. On behalf of 1.4 million AFSCME members, I’m grateful for Rep. Courtney’s leadership on this issue and look forward to swift action on this legislation.”

Randi Weingarten – President, American Federation of Teachers: “Workplace violence in the healthcare industry was rampant pre-COVID, with the pandemic realities only further compounding the safety issues facing our frontline workers. Our nurses, health techs, social service workers and other health professionals need more than nightly applause, they need enforceable federal protections to keep them safe from the epidemic of workplace violence and other serious issues they face at work. Currently, many of our healthcare heroes don’t receive hazard pay, and their employers aren’t required to offer them paid sick leave or basic safety protections. These are the people who take care of us when we need them, who have devoted their careers to looking after the aging, the sick and the injured, and who are still begging for basic workplace rights.

“Thank goodness for Congressman Courtney, whose Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act requires employers to develop violence prevention plans, enacts federal protections to keep our frontline workers safer, and creates whistleblower protections so that healthcare and social service workers don’t have to fear retaliation for speaking out against what they see in the workplace. With this bipartisan bill, we can start to help care for the people who care for all of us.”

Lindsay Cook, CIH, CSP, FAIHA – President, American Industrial Hygiene Association: “Workplace violence, particularly in health care and social service settings, remains one of the leading causes of traumatic death and injury in the United States. Each instance of violence leaves lasting scars on workplaces, families, and communities. Thankfully, as AIHA states in its White Paper on the Prevention of Workplace Violence, these events are often both predictable and preventable.”

Mark Rosenberg, DO, MBA, FACEP – President, American College of Emergency Physicians: “Violence in the emergency department must not be tolerated as ‘part of the job’, especially in the middle of a pandemic. We appreciate the leadership shown by Reps. Courtney, Bacon, Scott, Young, Adams, Fitzpatrick, and Khanna to strengthen protections for our nation’s frontline care teams while on the job. This bipartisan bill takes important steps to enhance workplace violence prevention programs and improve incident response procedures so that emergency physicians can focus on saving lives and treating millions of patients, without fearing for their safety.”

Dr. Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN—President, American Nurses Association: “Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace violence and harassment continues to be a major concern for nurses. Nurses have experienced everything from verbal and physical abuse to sexual harassment and bullying in the health care setting. This cannot and will not be tolerated anymore. As nurses continue to respond to this persistent pandemic, ANA applauds the members of Congress who remain committed to keeping this issue at the forefront and working toward a solution for the well-being of our nation's nurses,” said Dr. Grant.

Ron Kraus, MSN, RN, EMT, CEN, ACNS-BC, TCRN—President, Emergency Nurses Association: “Emergency nurses have been celebrated for their hard work and resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation introduced today truly honors that dedication and commitment to patients by pushing to better protect ED nurses, and other health care workers, from being assaulted in the very place they are providing care. ENA thanks Rep. Courtney for introducing this important legislation and for keeping workplace violence in health care at the forefront of his legislative priorities.”

Jean Ross, RN – President, National Nurses United: “National Nurses United is proud to endorse the Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, and applauds Congressman Courtney, Chairman Bobby Scott, and Reps Adam, Khanna, Bacon, Young and Fitzpatrick for their leadership on this bill. 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. This legislation would prevent injuries and save lives in our workplaces, and NNU was proud to support the passage of this bill in the House in November 2019. We strongly urge the House of Representatives to hold a vote on this bill as soon as possible, and urge the Senate and the White House to ensure that this bill is passed into law.”

Juley Fulcher—Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen: “Workplace violence is a serious problem for healthcare and social service workers and it’s getting worse every year. If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the value of our healthcare system and the professionals who take care of us. To keep these workers safe, OSHA must issue a strong, enforceable workplace violence standard. We thank Rep. Joe Courtney for his leadership in protecting our critical healthcare and social service workers.”

Supporting organizations also include: the Alliance for Retired Americans; the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work; the American Counseling Association; the American Psychiatric Association; the American Public Health Association; the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; the Coalition of Labor Union Women; the International Association of Firefighters; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health; National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT); the National Association of Social Workers; the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health; UAW; United Steelworkers; and Worksafe.

 

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