Workplace Violence in Healthcare—Not Part of the Job
Healthcare and social assistance workers—nurses, techs, aides, doctors, physician assistants, social workers, caseworkers, and others have had to deal with violence and threats from patients and the public for too long. In 2020, healthcare and social assistance workers suffered 76 percent of all injuries severe enough to require time off. They are nearly five times more likely to be assaulted at work compared with all other workers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many assaults and threats go unreported because healthcare and social assistance workers are encouraged to accept workplace violence as part of the job.
Workplace violence—bullying, threats, assaults, sexual assault and even homicide—has long been a problem for workers in direct care positions, but the problem has been growing steadily worse, rising in tandem with the staffing crisis. BLS statistics show that between 2006 and 2020, the rate of workplace violence jumped 173 percent in hospitals, 95 percent in psychiatric and substance use facilities, and 63 percent in home health agencies. The rate jumped 25 percent in 2020 alone for hospitals.
Stopping Workplace Violence
The AFT has long pushed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for an enforceable standard that would require healthcare and social assistance employers to develop comprehensive prevention programs in collaboration with frontline workers. OSHA is moving forward on this under the Biden administration, but progress on the standard is slow. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) would require OSHA to move more quickly to establish the standard. The bill passed twice in the House, but will need votes in both houses to pass in the current Congress.
What AFT Nurses and Health Professionals Locals Can Do to Stop Workplace Violence Now
AFT Nurses and Health Professionals will continue to fight for a federal standard, but we cannot wait—we have tools we can use now! The Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have updated their requirements for all accredited hospitals and critical access hospitals. Local unions can use these standards to push for prevention programs, including site-specific mitigation solutions and improved training for staff.
Nine states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington) have workplace violence laws requiring healthcare employers to develop prevention programs. Several additional states have considered similar legislation. In addition, numerous states have passed laws making assaulting a healthcare worker a felony.
OSHA provides the definitive guidance on developing comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs.
- Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers (osha.gov)
- Preventing Workplace Violence: A Roadmap for Healthcare Facilities (osha.gov)
For more information on workplace violence and other health and safety issues, AFT members can join the AFT Health and Safety Resources Community. Use this document to join, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for help.