Labor & Employment Law Daily Bipartisan healthcare and social services workplace violence prevention bill passes House
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bipartisan healthcare and social services workplace violence prevention bill passes House

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The need for more adequate workplace protections for health care and social service workers has become even more urgent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 16, 2021, the House passed the “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act” by a bipartisan 254-166 vote that saw 38 Republicans joining Democrats in supporting H.R. 1195. The bill would require that within one year of enactment, the Secretary of Labor (more specifically, OSHA) issue an interim standard on workplace violence prevention in the health care and social service sectors, as well as for certain employers in sectors that conduct activities similar to those in the health care and social service sectors.

Interim standard. The legislation would require employers to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan and carry out certain other activities or requirements to protect health care workers, social service workers, and other personnel from workplace violence. At minimum the plan and other requirements would be based on OSHA’s “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers,” published in 2015, and adhere to the other requirements of the legislation.

Although the interim rule would not have to meet all of the usual rulemaking requirements, the Secretary of Labor would have to give notice prior to issuing the interim rule and provide a 30-day public comment period. The effective date of the interim standard would be not more than 30 days after issuance but could include a reasonable phase-in period.

If an interim final standard is not issued within one year of H.R. 1195’s passage, the provisions of the bill would be in effect and enforced in the same manner and to the same extent as any standard promulgated under the OSHA Act until superseded in whole by an interim final standard issued by the Secretary that meets the bill’s requirements.

Final standard. The legislation would also require that within two years after enactment, the Secretary of Labor issue a proposed standard on workplace violence.

Amendments. Before passage, the House approved by voice vote the following amendments to H.R. 1195:

  • That additional training be provided for covered employees who work with victims of torture, trafficking, or domestic violence;
  • Adding Alzheimer’s and memory care facilities as facilities covered by the legislation;
  • Directing OSHA to prioritize providing technical assistance and advice to employers throughout the first year of the Act to ensure businesses are in compliance;
  • Clarifying that covered employers may consult with experts in workplace violence when developing their workplace violence prevention plan; and
  • Ensuring that nothing in the Act can be construed to limit or diminish any protections in relevant federal, state, or local law related to domestic violence, stalking, dating violence, and sexual assault.

A proposed amendment that would require OSHA to issue an occupational safety and health standard on workplace violence prevention for the health care and social service industries through the standard rulemaking process was defeated in a 158-256 vote.

The “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act” will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Urgently needed protections. Speaking on the House floor ahead of the vote, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) underscored the urgency of passing H.R. 1195. “In 2018, health care workers accounted for nearly three out of four of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses caused by violence … . Many of these incidents are foreseeable and can be prevented by sound workplace violence prevention plans,” He said “And they work. And, when they are implemented, they can reduce workers’ compensation claims.”

Yet OSHA “still has no enforceable workplace standard that requires health care and social service employers to implement violence prevention programs,” Scott continued. “We have tried voluntary guidance for the past 25 years. Yet, still too many employers choose not to follow the best evidence of what is well understood to be authoritative guidance issued by OSHA.”

COVID uptick. As the bill’s sponsors previously noted, a 2020 survey of registered nurses conducted by National Nurses United found that 20 percent of registered nurses reported increased workplace violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a job for Congress. Scott said that absent Congressional action, “protections for health care workers and social service workers are nowhere in sight, noting that “OSHA typically takes between 7 and 20 years to issue a new standard.” Here, the lawmaker pointed to the recent beryllium standard adopted a couple of years ago, which he said was in the works for more than 17 years.

“We cannot ask health care and social service workers to wait any longer, particularly during this global pandemic, when Congress has the ability to ensure that OSHA can act as quickly as possible to protect workers’ lives,” according to Scott.

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