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Federal legislation aims to protect health care employees

Nurses, doctors and social service workers shouldn’t have to be afraid to report to work.

That’s the basic idea behind the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The bill, which is not yet approved, was recently introduced to the House with the support of at least 20 members of the legislature. If approved, it could change the way that hospitals and other health care facilities operate — for the better.

In effect, the bill would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) participation in the creation of a standardized method of preventing workplace violence in the medical and social service fields. Professionals in those areas are often subject to workplace violence from the very people they are trying to assist.

In part, the violence professionals in these fields face comes from the nature of their occupations. Some patients or clients are mentally ill, others are acting out of anger and frustration, some are suffering from dementia or the effects of disorienting illnesses or drugs that cause them to lash out without warning.

When a worker is injured, however, it isn’t always the patient that’s at fault — no matter what the circumstances. There are numerous ways that facilities and agencies can minimize the danger to their employees. Too often, they simply don’t take those extra steps because they are inconvenient or deemed less cost-efficient overall.

In many cases, injuries to workers in the health care industry could be prevented with something as simple as increased numbers of staff members on duty at any given time and changes to the physical structure of the rooms patients are in so that workers can’t be trapped without assistance.

If you’re a health care worker that has suffered an on-the-job injury, an attorney can help you assess the situation and determine your right to compensation.