Nurses Testify for National Standard to Prevent Workplace Violence in Healthcare Settings

Jan. 10, 2017
RNs are demanding OSHA take action on a national standard to address violence in the healthcare setting.

Registered nurses who are members of National Nurses United (NNU) are testifying Jan. 10 at a public stakeholder meeting convened by OSHA to allow interested parties to comment on the need for a standard to prevent workplace violence in healthcare and social assistance. The meeting is intended to supplement written comments by allowing workers to tell of their personal experiences with workplace violence.

Members of NNU – from states around the country – will ask that OSHA promptly pass regulations to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings. 

“Registered nurses urge OSHA to act immediately to help protect nurses and all healthcare workers, as well as patients and families, from violence in healthcare settings—a serious problem for far too long,” said Jean Ross, a Minnesota registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United. 

Workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry face extremely high rates of workplace violence. In 2014, 52 percent of all the incidents of workplace violence reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) occurred against workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry. And the rates have been increasing; between 2005 and 2014, rates of workplace violence incidents have increased 110 percent in private industry hospitals.

Allysha Shin, a California registered nurse, and other members of NNU will speak out at OSHA’s public stakeholder meeting on workplace violence in healthcare settings.  Shin will testify about a December incident at her hospital where a patient was combative, attacking nurses and staff who had been assigned to her. 

“The patient ripped out of her restraints, pulled out one of her IVs, tore her gown off and got out of bed.  She kicked me in the chest and stomach multiple times.  It took approximately six people to re-restrain her to the chair,” Shin remembered. “Were it not for the patient’s loud screaming and cursing, my co-workers may not have known to come help me. The patient was also at risk of harm, and for 30 minutes, most of the nurses and other staff on the unit could not attend to their own highly acute patients because we did not have properly trained personnel from outside the unit who could help handle combative patients.”

“Predictable and preventable violent incidents such as these should never occur,” Shin continued.  “As registered nurses, we all experience the fear and insecurity when our employers are unprepared to handle violent situations or unwilling to do what is required to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.  OSHA must act swiftly to create a robust workplace violence prevention standard, because every day we wait, healthcare workers are placed at extreme risk of physical violence and psychological harm.”

In 2014, California nurses lobbied to pass the Healthcare Workplace Violence Prevention Act, and regulations were ratified late last year to realize the law’s goals.  The act defines workplace violence broadly to encompass actual acts of violence, as well as the threat of violence, and requires employers to develop a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Plan emphasizing prevention, training, and worker participation. 

"It should be mandatory that healthcare facilities have a preparedness plan in place to manage potential and actual violent situations to reduce the safety risks to nurses, other staff and the patient,” said Minnesota RN Nora Simone Jordan, who also will be testifying at the meeting. "Additionally, for this plan to be effective, staff would have input, receive interactive education and training, and rehearse it regularly so that we are purposefully acting – not just reacting – to manage workplace violence.”

Calling workplace violence in healthcare settings “a national epidemic,” Bonnie Castillo, RN, NNU’s director of health and safety, noted that’s why these protections are necessary in every state. “We fought hard to pass nation-leading regulations in California,” said Castillo, “and we will not stop fighting until we can ensure OSHA protects healthcare workers in the rest of the nation. The health and safety of nurses and patients is at stake.”

Michaels: OSHA Commencing Rulemaking

Jan. 10, on his last day in office, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels announced that OSHA will grant NNU's petition for a standard to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings.

"I agree with [NNU] that workplace violence is a serious occupational hazard that presents a significant risk for healthcare and social assistance workers,” said Michaels in a letter to Castillo. “OSHA is granting [NNU’s] petition and will commence rulemaking to address the hazards of workplace violence in the healthcare and social assistance industries."

In July 2016, NNU submitted a petition to OSHA for a workplace violence prevention standard with an expansive scope, thorough prevention requirements and robust training. News that the petition would be granted came just before the OSHA public stakeholder meeting on workplace violence.

"Our nurses came to D.C. today to speak out on the importance of passing an enforceable workplace violence prevention standard, and we are thrilled to know that OSHA has granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape," said Castillo. "Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other healthcare workers, as well as their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the U.S."

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Jordan Barab gave “kudos” to the California Nurses Association/NNU, which sponsored the California law, which is seen as the most far-reaching violence prevention plan in the nation. The law, now codified in California regulations, requires employers to develop a comprehensive workplace violence plan emphasizing prevention, training, and worker participation.

“Congratulations to NNU for shepherding our groundbreaking California legislation as a national model to protect all hospital nurses, other healthcare workers and patients,” said now California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who introduced the bill.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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