What You Need to Know about the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act

healthcare workplace violenceLast November, the House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. If the bill is subsequently passed by the Senate, healthcare organizations would be required by law to better protect employees from workplace violence.

The volume of workplace violence in the healthcare industry is staggering. From official sources, we know healthcare employees are four times more likely to be victims of workplace violence than in any other sector of private industry. We also know patient-on-staff assaults account for 97 percent of workplace violence in the healthcare industry, and that 71 percent of nurses have been sexually harassed by patients in the past year (read more healthcare workplace violence stats in our infographic).

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What we don't know is how much workplace violence is unreported. In 2015, OSHA produced a document “Workplace Violence in Healthcare: Understanding the Challenge” in which it was acknowledged incidents of workplace violence in healthcare are vastly underreported. The document claimed up to half of physical and non-physical assaults are not reported, while a subsequent study - “Underreporting Workplace Violence in Hospitals” - found underreporting rates of up to 88 percent.

How the New Bill Will Address Underreporting

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act calls for the Secretary of Labor to promulgate a final standard for workplace violence prevention that is at least as comprehensive as OSHA's “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers”. OSHA's guidelines address underreporting of workplace violence in the healthcare industry by advocating a system of recordkeeping and program evaluation in which:

  • Employers must record all serious occupational injuries and illnesses - including those sustained by an assault (including sexual assault).
  • The medical reports for each recorded assault should describe the type of assault and the circumstances of the assault, along with the nature of injuries sustained.
  • Records of employee-on-employee assaults - including verbal assaults and aggressive behavior - must also be maintained.
  • Health care and social service workers must be informed when a patient has a history of past violence, drug abuse, or criminal activity.
  • Employers must establish a reporting system and review reports to identify trends, with the objective of implementing measures to reduce the number and severity of workplace assaults.

A mandated system of bookkeeping and program evaluation won't necessarily reduce workplace violence in the healthcare industry, but it will provide more accurate data on which to base informed decisions about preventative measures. Certainly the instruction to identify the root cause of incidents (rather than recording an assault as an “unpredictable event”) will help healthcare safety managers understand the high prevalence of certain types of attack in specific areas of healthcare.

What Other Measures are in OSHA's Guidelines?

OSHA's guidelines are designed to give healthcare organizations every help in identifying risks to employee safety and implementing violence prevention programs to address the risks. However, as different healthcare organizations have different risk landscapes - and employees in different fields of healthcare will encounter different types of threat - the guidelines don't suggest specific measures, but rather a selection of “engineering controls” based on the results of individual job hazard analyses.

The exception to this generalization is in regards of personal safety for healthcare personnel. The guidelines recommend on-site personnel are provided with personal panic buttons and off-site personnel with cell phones with GPS tracking capabilities. Several states have already implemented statutes requiring this level of protection for healthcare workers, and - as OSHA's guidelines are the minimum standard for the Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act - this recommendation will likely become a nationwide requirement on enactment of the bill.

How Technology can Help Healthcare Organizations Comply with the Bill

The Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act places a further administrative burden on healthcare organizations that already have to comply with industry regulations such as HIPAA, CHIP, and PSQIA, and the requirements of the Joint Commission and Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). However, there are technology solutions that can simultaneously address reporting and personal safety requirements.

Our suite of healthcare solutions includes solutions that can act as both a reporting system and as a personal safety device. Healthcare safety managers can take advantage of these solutions to identify the extent of workplace violence in each area of healthcare and implement the most appropriate preventative measures in each case. 

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Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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