Workplace violence continues to be a profound concern for nurses across the country.
- 1 in 4 nurses are assaulted at work.
- Health care and social assistance workers face nearly six times the risk of workplace violence (WPV) than other industries.
- We hear often that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this risk. In a 2022 ANA survey of nurses, 29 percent reported experiencing a violent incident at work in the previous year.
ANA has advocated for decades that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strengthen WPV protections for health care workers. OSHA is a sub-agency in the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA’s standards are regulations that require employers to have safety protections in place for their employees. In 1996 OSHA published voluntary guidance for health care employers to help them create effective WPV prevention programs. As research evolved, OSHA updated this guidance, with the most recent edition released in 2016. From the statistics, it does not appear that voluntary guidance has had a significant impact protecting nurses from violence on the job.
There has never been a federal regulation requiring these prevention programs and clarifying the legal responsibilities of health care employers. When there is no specific standard on a workplace safety issue, OSHA can still hold an employer accountable if inspectors find the employer violated the “general duty clause”. This clause is the basis of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which created OSHA. The general duty clause states that employers must maintain “a place of employment which [is] free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to…employees.” OSHA has held employers accountable for failure to protect workers from WPV under the general duty clause, but WPV prevention has been very hard to enforce without a specific standard.
OSHA finally moved forward in creating a WPV prevention standard early this year. The first step was to gather feedback on a proposed standard from a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR). The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 installed this first step in OSHA and other federal agencies’ rulemaking process. Small business employers apply to be on SBAR panels that review and give feedback on the proposed standard to OSHA and the Small Business Administration. The panels are open to the public to listen in, and public comments on the feedback are allowed. This review was completed at the end of March 2023. ANA staff listened to the proceedings and then submitted comments reinforcing the need for this prevention standard so that employers can be held accountable for building an organization specific prevention program.
OSHA released a report about the SBAR review on May 1, 2023. ANA was disappointed to see that the report gives no timeline on next steps for the rulemaking, but rather recommends further research on many pieces of the proposed standard. OSHA also reopened public comments on the proposed standard and the report until July 3, 2023.
You can visit regulations.gov and submit your own comments. Let OSHA know: Why is this standard necessary? What are the biggest WPV risks you have experienced? What prevention strategies have you seen to be effective in your workplace?
OSHA’s rulemaking process is driven by research and finding the best evidence-based solutions. This means creating a new rule can take OSHA decades. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates it could take OSHA at least 7 years to create a WPV prevention standard. Rep. Joe Courtney has been a champion against health care WPV. He has led the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act in the House of Representatives for many years. This bill was reintroduced in the 118th Congress on April 18, 2023 with Sen. Tammy Baldwin leading in the Senate. It requires OSHA to release an interim final standard for WPV prevention within a year of passage and a final standard within three and a half years. OSHA already has decades of research to utilize including recent evidence gathered during the SBAR. Nurses and all health care workers cannot continue to wait for this life-saving standard. Visit RNAction today to tell your legislators to cosponsor the bill that will make sure nurses get the protection they need now.
To learn more about ANA’s surround-sound advocacy approach on WPV prevention, visit the recording of the 2023 Nurses Month Webinar.