bearSEIU Local 121RN and the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California are co-leading a campaign to get a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard for healthcare workers adopted by Cal/OSHA—the government agency in California charged with protecting workers from health and safety hazards on the job.

The statistics on workplace violence in the healthcare industry are staggering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare and social assistance workers are the most assaulted workers in the nation, accounting for almost 60 percent of violent assaults in the workplace. Those numbers are just the cases that were reported; the BLS estimates many more incidents go unreported each year.

Behind the numbers are real people working in the fastest growing industry in the U.S.—doctors, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians, support staff, custodians, and everyone else who works in healthcare—whose lives are changed forever by the violence they experience on the job.

There is a culture that is perpetuated in the healthcare industry that violence at work is “part of the job”—of course psychiatric patients suddenly become violent, of course family members go ballistic when their loved ones are suffering, of course patients get upset and act out when they are in pain. All of these things are true. Too often, however, management’s response is that there is nothing that can be done about this reality. Instead of putting controls in place that have been proven to prevent violence—things as simple as providing adequate staffing levels so that workers aren’t alone in potentially hazardous situations, putting security measures in place for its workers so that calls for help are responded to, and implementing basic engineering mechanisms so that physical spaces in facilities are safe—management tells its workforce that violence comes with the territory.

SEIU Local 121RN (which represents 8,000 registered nurses) and the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California (which represents 35,000 registered nurses in California) have been addressing workplace violence prevention through legislation, training, and advocacy since 2009. In 2012, it became clear that current legislation cannot adequately protect healthcare workers. While California has important workplace violence prevention legislation, that legislation resides in licensing code rather than in labor code, which means that it is virtually unenforceable. The two organizations determined that the most effective course of action would be to petition Cal/OSHA for a workplace violence prevention standard for healthcare workers that will encompass some of the most exacting elements of the current legislation and which will be enforceable by Cal/OSHA.

We are just over one year into the campaign. Over the past year, we’ve educated, organized, and mobilized our members. We continue to collect research on workplace violence through an online survey, personal experiences by way of worker stories, and names of individuals who support the campaign through a petition drive. And, we continue to conduct external and internal outreach on both the state and national levels.

With the unanimous support of the 2.1 million-member strong SEIU, the 700,000-member strong SEIU California, the national SEIU Nurse Alliance, and labor unions and worker centers committed to seeing a safer workplace for healthcare workers, we are moving forward with the next phase of the campaign, which is to file our petition for a standard with Cal/OSHA and we need your help:

Contact us for more information: Richard Negri, negrir@seiu121rn.org or Kathy Hughes, hughesk@seiu121rn.org.