House Passes Bill to Prevent Workplace Violence Against Health Care and Social Service Workers

A landmark bill to help prevent workplace violence against nurses and other health care workers

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Members of the National Nurses United for H.R.1309. Image via: uswlocals.org
Members of the National Nurses United for H.R.1309. Image via: uswlocals.org

November 21 saw a big step forward in addressing the epidemic of violence against health care staff when The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Staff Act (H.R.1309) was passed by the House of Representatives on November 21. The Bill still has to be passed by the Senate.

Provisions of the prevention of workplace violence act

The Act will require the Department of Labor to issue a legally enforceable safety and health care standard, rather than the current voluntary guidelines. The standard will require employers in the health and social services sectors to develop and implement a plan to prevent workplace violence

Employers will also be required to provide education and training for employees who might be exposed to violence and thoroughly investigate and keep proper records of all incidents. Discrimination or retaliation against employees for reporting incidents of violence will be prohibited.

Problem of workplace violence in health care

It was determined that non-fatal workplace violence against health care staff is 5 to 12 times higher than for employees overall, depending on the type of health care facility. A 2013 study found that the rate for injuries due to violence, which caused days off work, was 2.8 per 10 000 workers. The rate for private-sector hospital employees was 14.7, and for nursing and residential care employees, it was 35.3.

Furthermore, one should keep in mind that the above statistics are based on injuries that were formally reported. No one knows the true extent of the problem because, for various reasons, a significant percentage of incidents of workplace violence in the health care sector are not reported.

One of the reasons for not reporting incidents is that health care employees come to accept violence as part of the job. 

“I think it’s underreported because physicians and nurses go into healthcare to help people. We understand if they’re acting out, it’s because they’re ill or impaired, and we have this ethical duty to do no harm,” explained Leigh Vinocur, national spokesperson for American College of Emergency Physicians. “It’s no excuse that you’re impaired, or you’re ill, but we understand it a little more, and I think we tolerate it a lot longer than other professions might.”

Other reasons for not reporting violence include that the incident did not lead to serious injury, that the reporting process was complicated, that management often discouraged formal reporting, and that employees were afraid of discrimination and possibly losing their job.

Support for the prevention of workplace violence act 

“House passage of the workplace violence prevention act is a major victory for emergency nurses and all health care providers,” said Patti Kunz Howard, President of the Emergency Nurses’ Association. “Today’s vote puts us all one step closer to a safer work environment and, ultimately, peace of mind that we can care for our patients knowing that our facility has taken the proper measures to protect us.”

The Act for prevention of workplace violence has been strongly supported by, among many other organizations, the American Nurses’ Association, the Emergency Nurses’ Association, the American Psychiatric Nurses’ Association, and National Nurses United – the largest trade union for nurses.

The Bill, which was introduced by Congressman Joe Courtney, was passed in the House with a vote of 251 to 158. The vote was carried chiefly by the Democrats, although it was also supported by a number of Republicans. The Bill still has to be passed by the Senate, which has a Republican majority. 

Workplace violence is one of the major issues in nursing today. Every nurse can contribute towards having the Act written into law by telling their stories and lobbying their State Senators as we go into 2020 – The Year of the Nurse. 

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Frieda Paton, M.Cur, RN
Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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