Recently, the House passed HR 1195: The Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare Workers and Social Services Workers Act. This bill, as the name suggests, seeks to provide legal protections against workplace violence for healthcare workers. This bill received little fanfare; aside from a press conference by the bill’s sponsor, it barely made the news. However, I am here to tell you that this bill is desperately needed.
Workplace violence is shockingly common in the medical field. According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), healthcare providers experienced workplace violence at a rate that was four times higher than that of other employees in private industry. In fact, the number of workplace violence incidents in the healthcare industry exceeds that of almost every other industry combined.
For me, this issue is very personal. I work in an inner-city emergency department, and I have been threatened with bodily harm by my patients more times than I care to count. It's unsettling, to say the least, to be threatened by those I am trying to help. Yet, I count myself lucky; to date, no patient has ever physically assaulted me. Many of my colleagues have not been as fortunate. A distressing number of them have been slapped, punched, kicked, and even choked while working. One of my friends was kicked in the chest and needed Xrays to make sure she did not have any broken ribs. A few of my colleagues have been so traumatized by their assaults that they have left their jobs.
HR 1195 attempts to stem the violence that my colleagues and I face. It would require hospitals to “develop and implement a comprehensive plan for protecting health care workers … from workplace violence.” Currently, hospitals are not legally obligated to proactively engage in violence prevention for the sake of their employees. OSHA does offer guidelines to help hospitals counter violence, but these are purely advisory, and hospitals are under no obligation to follow them. H.R. 1195 will require hospitals take a more proactive approach to combating workplace violence. If signed into law, this bill would require hospitals and healthcare organizations to develop a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan in line with current OSHA recommendations. This bill also charges employers to promptly investigate violent incidents, provide training to staff, maintain records on such incidents and, most importantly, avoid discrimination against employees who report events.
This is actually not the first time that the House has considered this legislation. During the previous session of Congress, this bill was introduced. During that session, it had the designation HR 1309. HR 1309 was passed in the House but never even got a hearing in the Senate. Even if it had, the Trump administration gave no indication that it would support the bill.
This Congressional session, however, there are promising signs that the outcome may be different. HR 1195 passed in the House with 62% of members voting in favor. Given the current political climate, that level of bipartisanship is impressive. Additionally, with a new party in control in the Senate, there is a very good chance that the bill will be introduced and properly debated. The Biden administration has also signaled that it supports the legislation, meaning that the bill would likely be signed into law if it makes it to the President’s desk.
I urge the Senate to take up this legislation as soon as possible. HR 1195 is long overdue. Congressmen and women on both sides of the aisle have been effusive in their praise of healthcare workers during the pandemic. Passing HR 1195 would be a very concrete way for them to back up their praise with action. Those of us who have chosen to work in healthcare deserve to feel safe while at work. We have enough to worry about right now, we should not have to worry about being assaulted at work.
Gregory Jasani, MD is an emergency medicine physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center. This article is a follow-up from a previous article Dr. Jasani has written.