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Washington is Regulating Panic Buttons For Hospitals

Healthcare workers make up just 9% of the overall U.S. workforce, and yet, workers experience nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in healthcare than in the private sector. In 2019, 47% of emergency department physicians reported that they were physically assaulted during work, and 71% of nurses reported having been sexually harassed by patients.The statistics might be underreported, due to stigma and a sense these situations are just, “part of the job”, showing that states have an urgent need to address healthcare worker safety.  

In January, Washington State introduced a “panic button” bill for hospitals, according to WA Legislature. Lawmakers are hoping specifically to help prevent, “the sexual harassment and sexual assault of certain isolated workers.” Titled Senate Bill 5258, the legislation would require every hospital employer enact a sexual harassment policy, provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to all employees, and provide a list of all employees and provide a panic button app to each isolated worker. (Isolated workers might include a nurse of physician working in a specialized wing of the hospital, or traveling employees.) Senate Bill 5258 was introduced following the Washington State Court of Appeals decision to block Seattle Initiative Measure 124, which offered broader protections. 

Related Blog: Managing Hospital Safety Amidst the Coronavirus Outbreak

Yet, the Washington Hospital Association (WHA) voiced its approval for the new bill and its protections. Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the WHA, noted that the legislation offered multiple solutions to healthcare workplace violence. “We are just as passionate about our team members as we are any other part of our business, and their health and safety are essential,” Anton said. “How do we take employee protection to the next level? By providing training, adopting policies and procedures and supporting the use of safety devices.”

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Why Healthcare Workplace Violence Legislation Matters

Workplace violence against healthcare workers is an epidemic, and if left unaddressed, may have long term negative consequences for workers and the industry. Burnout, which is defined as substantial, “emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, and a low sense of personal accomplishment,” has reached rampant levels across the United States, according to NCBI. Over one-half of doctors and a third of nurses report experiencing burnout, brought on by excessive demands on energy, strength, and resources of the healthcare workplace. The high-pressure environment of healthcare, combined with elevated workplace safety risks, are contributing to this epidemic. Solutions, such as additional safety trainings or leveraging security technology, have never been more needed. 

Related Blog: The Role Communication Plays in Workplace Safety for Nurses

Senate Bill 5258 in Washington State is just one piece of legislature looking to mitigate workplace violence risks for healthcare workers, and lawmakers on the federal level are also looking to address these concerns. In November, the House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), which would, “require the Department of Labor to create an occupational safety and health standard requiring certain healthcare and social service employers to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for protecting healthcare workers, social workers and other personnel from workplace violence.” Much like the policy in Washington, the bill hopes to require hospitals to provide training and education to employees exposed to workplace violence hazards or risks. One key element to implementing training or protocol updates is ensuring that healthcare facilities have the necessary emergency communication tools.

Implementing Emergency Communication Tools For Healthcare Workers 

Workplace violence in hospital or healthcare settings is caused by complex systemic factors - the nature of the work, which deals with patients with a history of violence or drug use, facilities in underserved areas or rural regions lacking in rehabilitation treatments or specialists, and understaffing in general. But for hospitals and healthcare facilities, an inability to connect with emergency services during a workplace violence incident can be easily fixed. A healthcare safety app is a powerful tool in the hands of doctors, nurses, and staff members. The app allows workers to directly connect with 9-1-1 or campus security during an emergency with the push of a button. 

The app provides a “panic button” option to isolated employees, allowing them to reach out to hospital security or local law enforcement for assistance during an emergency. It also ensures employees never travel alone on campus, allowing traveling or isolated workers to set a timer and designate a virtual escort. If the employee does not arrive at their designated location within the set amount of time, hospital security or local law enforcement will be immediately informed. Even more critical, first responders will receive location data, allowing them to immediately identify, find, and respond to the emergency situation. 

Healthcare administrators can also implement a more robust reporting protocol by using a safety app. Two-way discreet and anonymous chats can help further prevent dangerous situations. With employee-initiated texting, they can contact any department, and administrators will see an increase in reported incidents. Governments on the federal and state level are pushing for these resources to become commonplace in hospital settings, but safety managers can explore these options ahead of those negotiations. Legislation may deem personal safety technology necessary for healthcare workers - but hospitals don’t need to wait to implement these powerful tools.

protecting healthcare workers

Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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