Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Guest column:

Violence in the workplace need not be tolerated

Workplace violence in medical facilities is an underreported problem throughout the United States.

There are a variety of situations in which medical professionals and other health care industry employees experience hostile working conditions, ranging from threats to cases in which physical force is used against a worker as well as incidents involving a firearm or other dangerous weapons.

Unfortunately, data is not collected in a consistent manner, and this contributes to the difficulties in developing better strategies for prevention and risk management of workplace violence.

A 2018 survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians shows that almost half of the surveyed physicians said they had been assaulted, and more than 70 percent had witnessed an assault in their workplace. Nearly half of the emergency physicians also reported being bitten, kicked, punched, scratched and spat on.

According to the Emergency Nurses Association, 67 percent of all nonfatal workplace violence injuries occur in health care, even though health care represents only 11.5 percent of the U.S. workforce. Research has also shown that health care workers have a 20 percent higher chance of being the victim of workplace violence than other workers — with emergency department and psychiatric nurses at the highest risk for patient violence.

In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that injuries in the industry account for almost as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined.

Workplace violence comes at a high cost for all those working closest with patients — our nurses, nursing assistants, personal care assistants and physicians, to name a few. Health care workers who experience violence can lose work time for recovery. They may also experience mental trauma and often suffer from fear, anxiety and loss of concentration at work. It goes without saying that this also has an adverse effect on patient care.

So what can we do to prevent workplace violence and improve protections for workers in health care facilities? One answer is having a plan in place for prevention and mitigation of risk factors.

Recently, I introduced Assembly Bill 348 to address these concerns. This bill would require hospitals and certain other medical facilities to create a workplace violence prevention plan that assesses workplace hazards and potential risk factors of workplace violence.

After conducting their assessments, facilities would have to create a plan to correct such hazards through system, environmental or work-practice controls. The workplace violence prevention plan also would take into account input from employees and be reassessed on an ongoing basis.

Nevadans appreciate the men and women who provide vital services in our state’s health care sector. I would especially like to thank the members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Nevada / National Nurses United and Service Employees International Union Local 1107 for supporting this important piece of legislation. When workplace safety is compromised in medical facilities, we are all at risk. This legislative session offers us a chance to ensure the welfare of those workers. By passing AB348, we can help foster safer working conditions for all employees in our state’s health care facilities.

Michelle Gorelow was elected to the Nevada Assembly this past November. She represents residents of Assembly District 35 in the southwest Las Vegas Valley.