New bill aims to require hospitals to create workplace violence prevention plan

Nurses unions and advocates are aiming to get a major workplace violence prevention bill across the finish line in the Senate. 

But the bill, introduced Wednesday, could face stiff opposition from the hospital industry, complicating efforts for final passage. 

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, introduced Wednesday the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, the Senate companion to a House bill that passed the chamber last year. The legislation has major support from nurses unions that say federal requirements are needed to protect workers at risk even before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are tired of being called heroes and angels while our health and safety and very lives are put in jeopardy,” said Jean Ross, the president of the union National Nurses United, during a press conference Wednesday.

The House bill, which the Senate version is a companion to, would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a federal standard mandating healthcare and social service employers to create and implement a workforce violence prevention plan. 

The legislation passed the House back in April via a bipartisan vote, and Baldwin said she is expecting similar support for the Senate version. 

“The bill has garnered widespread support and introduced with 26 co-sponsors,” she told reporters. “It is time to protect our healthcare workers and our patients from violence and pass this overdue legislation.”

The legislation underscores tensions between nurses and hospitals and health systems that have been simmering throughout the pandemic. Nurses unions have complained of unsafe staffing shortages and not enough personal protective equipment to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19. 

A recent survey from National Nurses United showed spikes in workplace violence across the country, with 48% of those surveyed reporting a small or significant increase. That was a nearly 18 percentage point hike compared to a poll done in September of last year.

“So many nurses across the country are physically and verbally attacked each year, and the violence is just getting worse,” said Ross.

She added that healthcare employers won’t develop workplace violence measures on their own and that a “mandatory, enforceable OSHA standard” will require it for them. 

National Nurses United has also pressed OSHA to make permanent a standard that aims to protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19. While OSHA developed a temporary standard that included key requirements for equipment and staffing, the agency let the standard lapse without making it permanent.

While Baldwin’s legislation may have cross-party support, it remains unclear whether the hospital industry will fight it. Ross said she has not heard of any support from hospitals and is wary that it will come. 

“Anything we have seen as costing them money, [we] don’t get support,” she said.