Workplace Violence Prevention…It’s Not Rocket Science

SBH-21050-2By Richard Negri, Health and Safety Director, SEIU Local 121RN

Safety isn’t rocket science. It’s about using common sense to prevent something that’s happened – or is likely to happen – from happening (again). Trip over your shoe laces because they aren’t tied? Tie them. Near misses at an intersection where a tree branch obstructs a traffic sign? Trim the tree. Ice on a sidewalk making walking dangerous? Put down some salt. You get the picture. It’s pretty simple stuff. 

In the healthcare industry, workers experience violence on the job day in and day out. Patients are sick, families are worried and angry, co-workers and managers are stressed, criminals are looking for drugs and money…the list goes on. When any of these people act out, the people most likely to be the victims are the workers. The problem has been going on for years in the healthcare industry.

The next Cal/OSHA Workplace Violence Prevention in Healthcare meeting will be on April 1 in Oakland. Click here for more information and here to read the revised draft of the regulation and comments.

It has also been studied and written about for years. We know what workplace violence is. We know who perpetrates it. We know who the victims are. We know what causes it. We know the consequences. We know that a significant amount of it is preventable. We know the specific and practical steps to prevent it.

So when we turn on the news and see that yet another doctor has been shot, another nurse stabbed, another healthcare worker beaten, it’s not only heartbreaking, it’s senseless because more often than not, when we read about the circumstances, it’s obvious that some common sense safeguards – had they been in place – could have saved these lives.

The California Safe Care Standard campaign is working to get Cal/OSHA – the government agency charged with protecting workers in the state from health and safety hazards on the job – to develop an enforceable workplace violence prevention regulation for healthcare workers with common sense safeguards.

That process has been underway for seven months. There have been a series of public meetings that has led to a draft of what will be this country’s first comprehensive workplace violence prevention regulation for healthcare workers – not just for some types of workers in some types of facilities, but for all healthcare workers in all healthcare settings.

In addition to hearing from people at the public meetings, Cal/OSHA has received a number of written comments on the draft. There is an interesting theme that runs through the comments submitted by a number of industry organizations and associations: given the external factors that impact this issue and that we just don’t know what, specifically, will reduce workplace violence, they say, the regulation should 1) create a standard definition of workplace violence; 2) create a standard reporting mechanism; and 3) incorporate an incident response/analysis component. We need more data, they say.

The suggestions made by industry organizations and associations are to gather data that has already been gathered, to analyze a problem that has been already analyzed, and to come up with solutions that have already been articulated. That’s not prevention. It’s evasion. Imagine an open manhole on a city street that three people have been falling into every day on average for 25 years. Do we need more data? Do we need more analysis of the problem? Do we need to figure out the solution? No, not really. We need the manhole closed or cones and a fence put up around it. We need prevention and we need it now.

We can speculate all day long about why industry organizations and associations are putting forth these positions. Whether it’s about money and profits…or whatever the motivation, it doesn’t really matter. In the end, these kinds of positions suggest to many that while they might talk about the seriousness of workplace violence, it’s one thing to talk and another to actually DO something about it.

Healthcare workers are urging the healthcare industry to do the right thing. One more preventable death, one more preventable psychological trauma, one more preventable debilitating injury is one too many. If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. This isn’t rocket science.

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