healthcare workers

House of Representatives Passes Bill Addressing Violence Against Healthcare Workers

The legislation faces a tough road ahead in the Senate and a potential veto from the Trump administration, which opposes the current version of the bill.

Despite a veto threat from the Trump administration, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would require the Labor Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration to develop rules to protect healthcare workers from violence in the workplace.

More than two dozen Republicans joined a majority of Democrats to support the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which passed 251-158, Bloomberg Law reported. The bill directs OSHA to issue new standards requiring healthcare and social service employers to create and implement workplace violence prevention plans.

The Labor Department would have 42 months after the bill’s enactment to develop and issue the standards. The rule must require at least the same level of protection as any state workplace violence plan OSHA has approved.

A growing number of healthcare workers face violence and assaults in the workplace. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office found that rates of violence against healthcare workers were up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce. That’s in addition to the fact that 70 percent of nonfatal workplace assaults that year took place in the healthcare and social service sectors.

In a statement, the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), said that the legislation’s passage was the culmination of a seven-year effort to require OSHA to address violence against people employed in the healthcare and social service sectors.

“These are some of the same people we depend on to take care of us when we need it most, and they shouldn’t have to fear for their own lives while they’re at work trying to save ours,” Courtney said.

Courtney called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to allow senators to debate and vote on the legislation, acknowledging that the legislation faces some hurdles in order to be signed into law.

One of those obstacles will be the Trump administration’s opposition to the bill, which its critics say will cost OSHA too much money to implement. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget said it would recommend a veto because the law would require nationwide adoption of workplace violence regulations in California, which are more strict than other states.

“At a minimum, the administration does not support turning one state’s standard into a national standard without a cost-benefit analysis to assess whether doing so might benefit workers,” the Office of Management and Budget said in reference to California’s rules, according to Bloomberg Law. “The administration also believes the bill’s timelines for issuing the interim final, proposed final, and final standards are inappropriate.”

Other Republicans in the House voiced concerns that the bill would allow OSHA to move ahead with new rules without including feedback from small businesses and the public. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said on the House floor that the bill also ignores data-centric approaches to addressing workplace violence.

“Currently, there is no agreed-upon set of policies to prevent and mitigate workplace violence for health care and social service workers, and researchers in the field have pointed out the need for additional studies to determine the most effective response,” Foxx said, adding that “H.R. 1309 is not the right way to address this important issue.”

Still, the bill has received widespread support from healthcare workers associations and labor unions. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said that these workers, particularly women, are at greatest risk of workplace violence and deserve higher degrees of protection.

"This bill is about protecting their lives, and every single senator should follow the House’s lead and be clamoring to vote for this critical, life-saving legislation,” Shuler said.

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