Healthcare Workplace Violence Legislation Introduced in Congress

By Christopher Cheney

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Worker Act was introduced in Congress today.

Healthcare and social service workers were victims of 76% of all nonfatal injuries from workplace violence in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Half of nurses surveyed by National Nurses United in 2022 reported an increase in workplace violence, more than double the previous year.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Worker Act was introduced by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT). The bill has bipartisan backing in the House of Representatives, with support from Don Bacon (R-NE), Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

The main provision of the bill would require the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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.

“Violence in our hospitals and clinics has reached epidemic levels,” National Nurses United President Deborah Burger, RN, said in a prepared statement. “Nurses have been punched, kicked, bitten, and choked or threatened with extreme violence. Tragically, some nurses have even lost their lives after being attacked on the job. This is why we urgently need legislative action to hold our employers accountable, through federal OSHA, for having a prevention plan in place to stop workplace violence before it occurs.”

If the bill becomes law, it will apply to many healthcare settings, including hospitals, residential treatment facilities, nonresidential treatment settings, medical treatment or social service settings in correctional or detention facilities, psychiatric treatment facilities, substance use disorder treatment centers, community care settings such as group homes and mental health clinics, and federal healthcare facilities such as those operated by the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service.

The bill is modeled after a California healthcare workplace violence standard that was adopted through state legislation sponsored by the California Nurses Association, a National Nurses United affiliate.

The bill has several provisions, according to National Nurses United.

“[The bill] sets minimum requirements for the standard and for employers’ workplace violence prevention plans, based on the groundbreaking California legislation. These requirements include unit-specific assessments and implementations of prevention measures, including physical changes to the environment, staffing for patient care and security, employee involvement in all steps of the plan, hands-on training, robust record-keeping requirements (including a violent incident log), and protections for employees to report workplace violence to their employer and law enforcement,” National Nurses United said in a prepared statement.

Healthcare and social service workers deserve to work in a safe environment free from violence, Sen. Baldwin said in a prepared statement. “It is unacceptable that our healthcare workers are subjected to senseless acts of violence in their workplace, and we must do more to protect them. I am proud to introduce this legislation to give our nurses, doctors, healthcare support staff, and social service professionals with long-overdue basic protections, helping address our healthcare workforce shortage and keep our frontline heroes safe.”

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.