AFSCME applauds House passage of workplace violence bill

Workers in health care and social service industries are a big step closer to having safer workplaces.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R.1195) by a bipartisan vote of 254 to 166. The bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard to prevent workplace violence in health care and social service assistance settings.

In a statement, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “By requiring OSHA to issue a workplace violence prevention standard for health care and social services settings, H.R. 1195 would finally give these brave workers the protection they need and deserve.”

Saunders also thanked Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), who introduced the bill.

Currently, OSHA only issues voluntary guidance but does not set forth a standard that employers must enforce. AFSCME has supported this bill, as well as its precursor, H.R. 1309, which passed the House with bipartisan support in 2019.

“Health care and social services can be some of the most dangerous work out there. These public service workers – dedicated to healing and helping some of our most troubled, marginalized people – have to contend with threats of stabbing and biting and attacks of all kinds on the job. But current federal law leaves them largely to fend for themselves,” Saunders said.

Kilian Dishneau, a psychiatric nursing assistant and a member of Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), AFSCME Local 52, spoke to lawmakers on Monday about the importance of passing H.R. 1195.

“H.R. 1195 is a game changer because OSHA will have a real deadline to issue a rule on preventing workplace violence. My employer will have to seriously address how their understaffing has contributed to the violence at our facility,” he said.

Dishneau described harrowing scenes of violence he has experienced while on the job at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

“In September and November of 2020, I was attacked by patients under my care. In the first attack, I was punched in the head repeatedly and thrown against a wall,” said Dishneau. “As a result, I had a concussion, headaches and blurred vision for an extended period.”

A second occurrence of patient violence left Dishneau with a bloody nose, bite marks on his arm and a partially torn bicep. Dishneau said that if his employer had a workplace violence plan in place, those incidents might not have happened.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care and social service workers are five times as likely as other workers to experience workplace violence. Moreover, as front-line health care workers have continued to serve their communities during the pandemic, they have also seen increases in violence on the job, both in the U.S. and abroad.  

H.R. 1195 would allow for customizable violence prevention plans that are workplace-specific, not a one-size fits all policy for all employers. By reducing violence at the workplace, it would also improve the safety and quality of patient care, particularly in mental health settings.

Brave workers in health care, behavioral health, social services and EMS should be able to do their jobs in safety, free from the fear of violence. AFSCME members applaud the House for passing this crucial bill to make these front-line heroes safer, and urge the Senate to pass it.