U.S. House passes legislation to protect health care workers

Federal reports show at least 58 hospital workers died from workplace violence between 2011 and 2016.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved H.R. 1195 — the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act — which was introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) in February and was co-sponsored by four Republicans and three Democrats.

The bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a standard requiring health care and social services industries to develop and implement workplace violence prevention plans to protect nurses, physicians, social workers, emergency responders and others.

“Health care and social workers have been waiting for years, long before COVID-19, to have their safety taken seriously while they’re working hard to ensure everyone else’s,” Courtney said in a press release when he introduced the bill. “This workforce faces more on-the-job violence than any other sector in the American economy.”

Safety and Health magazine reported: “The rate of violence against health care workers is up to 12 times higher than that of the overall workforce, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office study. The study also showed that 70% of nonfatal workplace assaults that year took place in the health care and social assistance sectors.”

The bill is supported by the Emergency Nurses Association.

“We know that ED staff, including emergency nurses, consistently face violent attacks in their workplace and that is unacceptable,” ENA President Ron Kraus said in a press release. “The advancement of this important and timely legislation is a critical step in the protection of America’s health care providers. Workplace violence is not a part of the job and should not be tolerated.”

National Nurses United, the largest U.S. union and professional association of registered nurses with more than 170,000 members, praised the bill.

“Today’s action by the House helps push this very important piece of legislation to the finish line. Nurses need to be protected when they’re on the job; their safety is important in its own right and it helps ensure optimal patient care,” Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN and a president of NNU, said in an email. “We appreciate the House members who voted in favor of this very important legislation and urge them to encourage their colleagues in the Senate to do the same.”

Bonnie Castillo, RN and executive director of NNU, said in an email: “This is groundbreaking legislation that will hold health care and social service employers accountable for the safety of their workers. It’s time for employers to stop putting lives in danger. Everyone deserves to be safe in their workplace, and that includes hospitals, clinics, and social service settings that are so crucial now more than ever given the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.”

The bill was previously introduced as H.R. 1309 in February 2019, and passed the House by a 251-158 vote Nov. 21, 2019. It never came up for a vote in the Senate, however.