Workplace Violence

Legislation on Workplace Violence Prevention Heads to Ways and Means

09.23.2005

MNA leads country in efforts to keep RNs safe on the job

After spending only 54 days debating its merits, the state’s Public Safety Committee favorably voted out the MNA’s proposed legislation regarding workplace violence prevention, Senate Bill 1329 (lead sponsor Senator Jarrett Barrios). It will now move on to the Ways and Means Committee for the next vote needed in the approval process.

S. 1329, An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence, aims to make it mandatory for hospitals to provide a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. It will also mandate that hospitals make counseling programs available to victims of workplace violence. In addition, the bill addresses the risk of violence and the appropriate retirement compensation for those professionals who care for potentially violent patients within public sector settings.

The development and submission of this bill was entirely spearheaded by the MNA and, specifically, the MNA’s Health and Safety Committee. “This legislation will dramatically improve the working conditions of nurses throughout the commonwealth,” said Karen Higgins, RN and MNA president, “Its progression through the legislative system is both timely and necessary, as it is becoming all too common for nurses to be victims of workplace violence.”

The issue of workplace violence in the nursing profession has been regularly covered in both the mainstream media and the MNA’s internal publications in recent months, with numerous stories and reports detailing the effects of this unnecessary “job hazard” and its commonality.

In 2004 survey that was commissioned by the MNA’s Health and Safety Committee:

  • More than half of those surveyed report that workplace violence has been a serious problem in the last two years.
  • Just over 30 percent report being regularly or frequently physically threatened; and between 25 and 30 percent were regularly or frequently pinched, scratched, spit on, or had their hand or wrist twisted.
  • Almost 50 percent had been punched at least once; seven respondents report having been strangled in the past two years; eight sexually assaulted and two intentionally stuck with a contaminated needle.
  • The majority of violent acts are committed by patients.
  • There are a variety of items identified for use as weapons by nurses in the survey, including a third who have seen furniture used as a weapon, just under 30 percent have witnessed pencils or pens and medical equipment used. Less common are scissors (11 percent), knives (9 percent) syringes (5 percent) and guns (2 percent).
  •  Most nurses continue to work after reporting an incident of violence. Less than 1 percent refused to keep working and less than 2 percent were sent home. Fewer than a quarter were offered relief so that they could stop working if they needed to.
  • The majority said that while management was supportive, nothing was done to solve the problem.
  • Just over half of those reporting said they later had difficulty concentrating on their job. Others report being easily startled, psychological symptoms such as fear, physical symptoms such as headaches, difficulty working in an environment that reminds them of the past incident, and an actual impact on their ability to work due to injuries sustained.
  • Only 20 percent say that they feel their employer is very concerned about their overall safety at work including workplace violence.

“The statistics that came out of that report were both shocking and eye opening,” added Higgins, “but they served as a wake-up call to those concerned with the health and safety of the commonwealth’s patients and nurses.”

“We’re celebrating the passage of this legislation to Ways and Means in large part because of the hard work of the MNA’s Health and Safety Committee and because of the blood, sweat and tears that many of our nurses gave to the cause,” added Higgins. “Those nurses took extremely traumatic experiences and channeled them in a way that allowed them to become some of the most inspiring advocates that the MNA has ever seen.”

The nurse advocates Higgins referred to include Charlene Richardson?an emergency department RN at Beverly Hospital who was assaulted by a man who lunged at her, grabbed her crotch and tore through her hospital scrubs?and Charles Palmer, an RN at Tewksbury Hospital who said during a June 29 hearing on S. 1329 that he “has been punched, kicked, scratched, bitten, even spit on” over the years.

Higgins also recognized the tremendous support that the MNA received from Senator Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge), the bill’s lead sponsor, and encouraged MNA members and supporters to contact his office and express their appreciation for the work he has done. Sen. Barrios’ office can be reached at 617.722.1650 or via email at Jarrett.Barrios@state.ma.us.

Nurses and activist who are interested in helping S.1329 move through the Ways and Means Committee are encouraged to contact their local legislators. Contact numbers for legislators