Proposed Legislation Requires Healthcare Providers to Implement Safety Plans to Protect Employees

Healthcare is one of the most dangerous industries to work in, according to multiple federal agencies that study the issue—particularly for nurses and behavioral health professionals. In an effort to help address this issue, Rep. Jon Courtney (D-CT) has introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, HR 7141. The proposed legislation, which currently has 22 cosponsors, would require at a federal level that hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, mental health providers, and jails develop a workplace safety plan to protect their employees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare and social service workers suffered 69 percent of all workplace violence injuries. In fact, healthcare workers are more likely to experience violence than police officers, according to research by Vox. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Report from 2015 found that nurses and nursing assistants accounted for nearly 60 percent of all identified in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-recordable injuries from 2012 to 2014.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act directs OSHA to issue a standard requiring healthcare and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to prevent and protect employees from violent incidents. Several states have their own laws, but there is no equivalent regulation at the federal level.

Such safety plans could include measures such as hiring more security guards, installing surveillance cameras, and training staff in how to respond to violent incidents.

Even though health information management professionals aren’t mentioned specifically in the legislation, the bill, as written should cover them, according to Lauren Riplinger, JD, senior director for federal relations, who notes that the legislation faces favorable odds of undergoing the markup process when the Democrat-majority House of Representatives begins its new session in 2019.

Nurses and nursing assistants are the workers most at-risk for violence due to the hands-on nature of their work, particularly those who work in behavioral health facilities and nursing homes, where they are often punched, kicked, or scratched by patients. Courtney’s law would also prohibit employers from retaliating against healthcare workers who call 911.

Click here for the full text of the bill, and click here for a section by section summary of the bill.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at Journal of AHIMA.

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