ACP Urges Senate to Pass Legislation Aimed at Combating Workplace Violence in Health Care Settings

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The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, if passed, will require OSHA to develop a standard to prevent workplace violence

Oct. 7, 2022 (ACP) — As violence against health care workers continues to threaten lives, the American College of Physicians is calling for a decisive response from the U.S. Senate, which is considering vital legislation.

“ACP has great concern for the safety of all health care personnel and patients, including the workplace violence currently faced by physicians and other health care workers … ACP supports legislative efforts to reduce and prevent instances of workplace violence and bolster workplace safety,” wrote Dr. Ryan Mire, president of ACP, in a letter to senators in favor of the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.

Health care workers have long been targets of physical and verbal threats and assault, and the situation appears to be getting worse. “One government report [from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics] found that nonfatal violent incidents nearly doubled from 2011 to 2018,” said Ryan Crowley, ACP senior associate for health policy. “Health care and social services workers are five times more likely than other workers to experience injury from a violent act while on the job.”

He added that the pandemic has worsened the violence, especially in hospitals. “Emergency rooms in communities with high COVID-19 case rates tended to have more violent incidents. Nurses also report higher incidents of threats during the pandemic,” Crowley noted. “Another rising problem is violence and threats aimed at vaccinators by antivaccine activists. Unfortunately, social media has emboldened a lot of people to attack physicians and other health care and public health professionals.”

In 2021, ACP adopted a policy that supports research into the nature of workplace violence and ways to prevent it. ACP also called for legislation to strengthen protections and developed a toolkit for chapters to advocate for stronger workplace protections.

“OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] has developed guidance on workplace violence prevention for the health care sector, but there isn't a law that requires employers like hospitals to implement workplace violence prevention initiatives,” Crowley explained. “The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act would require OSHA to develop a standard to prevent workplace violence and direct hospitals and other health care settings to report violent incidents.”

ACP is also monitoring attempts to combat workplace violence at the state level. “Most states have some sort of existing legal protections for physicians, other health care professionals and public health officials,” Crowley said. “A handful of states have existing workplace violence prevention requirements for employers.”

The bill has already passed the House and is now before the Senate. ACP sent Mire's letter of support to leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

If the bill passes, the OHSA standard would be developed in two stages: an interim final standard to be issued within one year of enactment and a final standard to be issued within 42 months. The standard would cover tens of thousands of facilities, including hospitals, residential treatment facilities and nonresidential treatment settings, among others.

The bill would also require direct covered entities to provide in-person training and education to employees regarding workplace violence.

For now, Mire wrote, “ACP believes physicians and other health care workers should educate themselves on workplace violence policies, plans, and protocols; be aware of potential hazards; report all incidents of workplace violence; participate in workplace violence prevention and response trainings; and commit to upholding a culture of workplace safety.”

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