With nurses watching, lawmakers push OSHA on anti-workplace violence
The Cleveland Clinic says it intercepted thousands of weapons in the last 12 months carried into the facility by relatives and acquaintances of patients. | Wikipedia (CC)

WASHINGTON—With National Nurses United members in the crowd monitoring them, the Democratic-run House Education and Labor Committee voted on party lines to push the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to, within a year, unveil a rule to force hospitals and nursing homes to create and implement programs to reduce workplace violence.

The measure, HR1309, was one of three pro-worker bills the panel approved on June 11, all by party-line votes. All three measures also overcame opposition from panel Republicans. The GOP also predicted the GOP-run Senate would deep-six what they called “an overly partisan bill.”

HR1309 would tell OSHA to issue an interim rule within a year to force the institutions to move, and a final rule within 42 months. That’s far faster than OSHA often issues rules, as bosses often use delays and lawsuits to stop the measures. OSHA’s beryllium standard took 19 years, for example.

“This (bill) is a huge step forward in our fight to get these protections across the finish line,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN, who attended the hearing with her fellow nurses.

“Health care and social service workers face rates of workplace violence more than three times higher than workers overall. HR1309 enshrines the only protections that have proven to help stop this violence before it occurs — by making employers accountable for having a comprehensive, unit-specific prevention plan in place,” Ross added.

“Registered #nurses reported more than three times the rate of injuries due to workplace violence than workers overall. We deserve to feel safe at work! Tell your Congress member to support HR1309,” another NNU member tweeted. Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, whose union represents school nurses, among others, also wrote in favor of the legislation.

NNU also cited a Bureau of Labor Statistics census of fatal job-related injuries that “at least 58 hospital workers died as a result of violence in their workplaces” from 2011-16.

And the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., quoted the head of the Cleveland Clinic as saying his facility alone confiscated 30,000 weapons from patients’ family members in 2018.

“Health care and social service workers suffer injuries from workplace violence at higher rates than other workers,” panel chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., said. “This is a serious concern for 15 million workers.”

“This will protect not only health care workers but patients as well,” said Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who said he first learned of the prevalence of health care workplace violence when he was an organizer for the Service Employees 20 years ago.

“Employers must be held accountable for a clear and enforceable standard,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. Such “terrible” assaults “are predictable and preventable,” she added. “It’s management’s role and responsibility to prevent this violence.”

HR1309 would order hospitals, nursing homes, and caregivers to share information about potentially violent patients, order the health care facilities – including public hospitals — to train their workers on de-escalating violent situations, tell them to erect protective barriers and enact more protections for whistleblowers, among other mandates, said Courtney.

Even the panel’s former chair, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., admitted 70% of all workplace violence injuries hit health care and social service workers. But Foxx and other Republicans contended “OSHA is finally doing its job by seeking the input of those who know better than we do” about the issue. She claimed Congress “will do great harm by rushing the process.”

Foxx, who once questioned whether unions are even necessary, criticized HR1309 as “haphazard legislating” that “rushes” OSHA’s rule “and short-circuits the opinions of those who know better than we.” Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., known for hating unions and workers, said employers should be able to comment i.e. stall. He then offered a Republican substitute to gut the bill. It lost.

The committee also approved two other pro-worker measures on July 11. One is yet another congressional attempt to tackle the problems of some 130 financially fragile multi-employer pension plans – plans which cover some one million workers, including Mine Workers, Machinists, Teamsters, Food and Commercial Workers and others (see separate story).

The other would help workers file age discrimination lawsuits by restoring a prior looser standard to sue. In 2009, a Supreme Court ruling made such lawsuits harder.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.