Healthcare workers in California are about to make history

By Richard Negri

cal_safe_standardThe Cal/OSHA Standards Board will vote to likely accept SEIU’s workplace violence prevention petition at its June 19 meeting in Sacramento, taking the next step in getting us to a much needed and long overdue regulation for healthcare workers in California around the issue of workplace violence.

SEIU Local 121RN and SEIU Nurse Alliance of California have been actively moving the California Safe Care Standard campaign forward since January 2013 and submitted our petition to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board earlier this year.

Violence doesn’t happen because workers fail to do their jobs or because people act out. People get hurt because safeguards haven’t been put into place by management to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

An SEIU 121RN member told me last August that she had faced a dangerous situation at work when a 250+ lb. male patient acted out and chased her down a locked hallway. She had no other staff with her and her only way to protect herself was to crawl under a table. She escaped physical injury, but was scared, as you can imagine.

This nurse and many other healthcare workers telling similar stories always say the same thing: they were not just scared for themselves, but for their patients and co-workers as well. The person who acted out could have easily redirected to ANYONE in the facility and what this nurse did was to try to take care of herself (and everyone else) by keeping his attention on her.

There are many, many things wrong with the particular scenario above (not being able to get out of a locked hallway and working alone pretty much top that list), but what it illustrates is the potential and real possibility of what violence means not only for ourselves, but also for anyone else who happens to be around when someone becomes violent.

Violence in healthcare facilities doesn’t know any boundaries. Anyone and everyone present and “in the way” can be a potential target for an agitated person, whether that person is a patient, a family member, a visitor, an administrator, or a co-worker.

Violence is no different from other occupational health and safety hazards: if it is predictable, it is preventable. Our goal is to ensure that engineering and administrative safeguards are put into place that will prevent the hazard of violence from whatever its source and toward whomever it is directed. This is not just about OUR safety as healthcare workers. A safe workplace for us means a safe environment for our patients, their families, and visitors.

The Standards Board meeting will be on June 19 at 10:00 am at the State Resources Building, 1416 9th Street in Sacramento. If you’re in the Bay Area and want to come out and support California healthcare workers, click here to let the campaign know that you will be there.

Richard Negri is Health and Safety Director, SEIU Local 121RN

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