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“More Must be Done” to Prevent Workplace Violence

“Preventing workplace violence should be given the highest priority,” said Helene Andrews (right, with U.S. Representative Joe Courtney), a registered nurse (RN) at Danbury Hospital and member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Danbury Nurses Union.
Andrews was one of several health professionals who traveled to Washington, D.C., on April 14 to join members of Congress to unveil the results of the GAO’s two-year study. The agency examined the prevalence of workplace violence in healthcare facilities and reviewed efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and states to address this problem.
Andrews was assaulted by a patient in 2009. During the attack, she fell to the floor and shattered her pelvis. 
“Initially, I couldn’t comprehend what had happened,” she said at last week’s press conference organized by Democrats on Congress’ education and workforce committee. The aftermath was difficult and painful for her. 
Andrews said physical recovery took more than six months, but she remains traumatized and vulnerable from the attack, although she continues to work. She decided to share her story because she feels her injury was preventable. 
“The patient had a history of violence, but I was not made aware of it,” she said. 
A series of injuries at Danbury Hospital led OSHA to conduct an inspection, and the hospital was issued a citation in July of 2010. After that, administrators took positive steps to establish a violence-prevention program, and now patients with a history of violence are documented. 
Click here for OSHA’s 2010 citation against the hospital.
But more must be done, said Andrews. She and other healthcare workers are calling on OSHA to pursue a rule on preventing workplace violence in the healthcare industry.
Back here in Connecticut, the GAO study and grassroots efforts to establish a national standard are being applauded.
“Workplace violence and related injuries should not be expected nor accepted as part of the job,” said Mary Consoli, president of the Danbury Nurses’ Union. “Unfortunately, healthcare and social workers across the nation do not report many assaults and injuries that occur in workplace settings,” added Consoli.

Click here for highlights of a recent forum on health-related workplace violence.
The GAO report found that OSHA’s General Duty clause is not enough to protect healthcare workers, said Rep. Courtney. “Healthcare workers need the benefit of a stronger enforcement mechanism,” he added.
The congressional watchdog’s study offers these three recommendations for OSHA:
  1. Improve training for inspectors on developing citations for workplace violence hazards;
  2. Follow up on hazard alert letters to determine whether an employer has implemented steps to prevent workplace violence, or if a follow-up inspection is needed; &
  3. Assess the results of its current efforts to determine whether additional action, including development of a standard, is needed.
Click here for the full GAO report.
“It is my hope that Congress takes this report as a basis to establish an OSHA standard for workplace violence,” said Marie Athans, an RN at Danbury Hospital and member of our affiliated union. “It should not take injuries to protect healthcare workers in the United States,” she added.
Click here for our previous report on efforts to improve safety in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

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