Patt Moon-Updike wanted to be a nurse since she was 9 years old. In 2007, after raising her family, she was finally able to make that dream come true after graduating from nursing school and joining the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
She was only three days into her position as a psychiatric nurse at the Behavioral Health Division of Milwaukee County in the Child and Adolescent Treatment Unit when a young patient with a history of aggression kicked her in the throat, collapsing her trachea.
“All I remember is sitting in a chair, not being able to breathe, holding on to my trachea for dear life. I just knew if I let go, I would die right there in that hallway,” said Moon-Updike. The incident left her with lifelong injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that she can no longer work in health care, her childhood dream.
Violence should never be part of the job. But the reality is violence is now the third-leading cause of workplace deaths, resulting in nearly 29,000 serious injuries every year.
Nurses, medical assistants, emergency responders and social workers face some of the greatest threats, suffering more than 70 percent of all workplace assaults. Women workers are also at particular risk, suffering two out of every three serious workplace violence injuries.
The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Workers Act (H.R. 1309, S. 851), introduced by Rep. Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyHouse panel approves B boost for defense budget Democrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments New Air Force One jets may be a year late, cost more, Pentagon official says MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE (D-Wis.), would help protect these workers.
The bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a federal workplace violence prevention standard, requiring employers in the health-care and social-service sectors to develop and implement a plan to identify and mitigate workplace violence hazards.
The bill ensures that frontline workers have a voice on the job, especially when it comes to safety standards. The bill would allow these professionals to help their employers identify common-sense safety measures like alarm devices, lighting, security and surveillance and monitoring systems to reduce the risk of violent assaults.
A number of states, including California, New York and New Jersey, have adopted workplace violence standards or laws, but they are the exception. Currently, there is no federal OSHA workplace violence standard, so it is critical that Congress take action now.
Workers like Patt should not have to fear for their lives because of their jobs. She decided to share her story when another nurse was killed at the very same hospital.
“Everyone assumes violence is part of the job,” she said in her testimony before the U.S. House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in February. “But that is not true. Prevention is possible when systems are put into place to reduce the risk of violence. When nurses and health-care workers are safer, so are our patients.”
Inaction is not an option. Workers’ lives are on the line. Congress should pass this bill now. Workers’ lives depend on it.
Liz Shuler is the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.