Apr 2018

Preventing the Unthinkable: Putting the Brakes on Health Care Workplace Violence

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyMost of us think of needing to go the hospital only in times of an emergency, whether that’s an automobile accident or due to an injury on the playing field. Expectant mothers are both looking towards the birth of a healthy child and readying themselves for the unimaginable pain of labor and childbirth. Elderly people worry about falls and collapses. In each of these cases, we think about the healing we’ll receive at the hospital in the wake of an injury or illness.

Preventing injuries to healthcare workers caused by violence

However, what we rarely think about is injury caused to the EMTs, nurses, and physicians themselves who provide healthcare to us. Yet acts such as this occur with such frequency that the Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 8th. This proposed bill would enable OSHA to create a commonsense standard policy which would require that healthcare facilities would develop and implement facility- and unit-specific workplace violence prevention plans. The legislative bill was introduced by Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) along with the support of 12 other House Democrats in order to bridle workplace violence in healthcare facilities nationwide.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries that 58 workers died due to results of workplace violence from 2011 to 2016. The Government Accountability Office also cites a 2016 study in which healthcare workers employed at inpatient facilities were 5 to 12 times more likely to experience workplace violence than all other workers combined. That element of vulnerability regarding healthcare workplace violence is a cause for concern and for legislative action.

A safe environment for healthcare workers

The state of California enacted regulations in 2014 which acted as a precedent for Rep. Khanna’s Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act. The California bill directed Cal/OSHA to create a workplace violence prevention standard. The law mandates all healthcare facilities in California to have developed and issued plans to prevent workplace violence and to ensure safety of both patients and workers by April 1, 2018.

Khanna’s bill applies the same concept at the national level. Input from physicians, nurses, and custodial workers regarding violence in the workplace would inform the creation and implementation of comprehensive violence prevention plans. The bill also emphasizes the basic elements of prevention, training, and worker participation. The definition of workplace violence is broadened to include both physical acts of violence and threats of violence. The bill emphasizes the importance of staff as a significant element in violence prevention and response to violence itself.

Khanna admonished in a March 8th press release that “health care workers, doctors, and nurses are continuously at risk of workplace violence incidents—strangling, punching, and other physical attacks—that can cause severe injury or death.” Khanna continued, “This is simply unacceptable. The Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act puts a comprehensive plan in place and is a national solution to this widespread problem modeled after the success seen in California.”

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, offered strong support. NNU Co-President Deborah Burger advocated in a press release that “under the proposed federal standard, hospitals would need to assess and correct for environmental risk factors, patient-specific risk factors, staffing and security system sufficiency. There are a number of interventions that can reduce violence in the hospital.”

“For example,” Burger continued, “affixing furniture and lighting so they can’t be used as weapons, maintaining clear lines of sight between workers while they are caring for patients, and providing easy access to panic buttons or phones to call for help. It is imperative that nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers, along with security staff and custodial personnel, are all involved in the development and implementation of these plans.”

Insights from workers lead to improvement of safety standards

What is key to the success of the implementation of The Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act is its origins—the input of physicians, nurses, custodians and other healthcare workers becomes the basis for the act itself, which gives the legislation credibility. We need to improve safety standards based on the insight of  healthcare professionals themselves—not on an arbitrary administrative or political bias.

For more than 30 years, the knowledgeable attorneys at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl have been successfully helping healthcare workers and other hardworking people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to obtain the just compensation they deserve.

If you have been injured in the workplace, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.


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