Your Job or Your Life

I just received an invitation to a Washington DC Workers Memorial Day event titled “No worker should have to sacrifice their life for a paycheck.”

Scrolling further down my email, run across an article entitled: “Former EMT says she was forced to choose between job and safety,”  a story of Kindsey Swim, a former Emergency Medical Technician who  quit her job after getting a call to help a patient who had previously injured her.  Swim had been hit in the head last week by a patient with Down Syndrome so hard that she went to the hospital with a concussion.  When she was told to transport the same patient the following week, she refused.

“I was terrified to think that I would have to transport him,” she said.  Swim said dispatchers refused to transfer the call to other crews willing to take it, so she chose to walk away.

“I chose to protect myself and I felt like I had no choice,” she said.

Heartland Ambulance Service said no other crews were available and that they didn’t purposefully put her on that call. The policy, though, is if you refuse a call you’ve quit the job. “This is not violence in EMS this is us taking care of a handicap person who does not have the same mentality as us,” company president Kenneth Jackson said.

Getting hurt as “part of the job” went out of fashion (and became against the law) when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970

In other words, as the article put it, being assaulted is “part of the job and the risks that come with it.”

Well, it’s not.  Getting hurt as “part of the job” went out of fashion (and became against the law) when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970 (unless you happen to be a public employee in 24 states). Even for workplace violence. 

OSHA publishes guidelines to prevent violence against healthcare and social service workers, and has cited a number of employers under the General Duty Clause for not providing a workplace free from exposure to workplace violence.  OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe workplace even where there is no specific standard covering the hazard.  OSHA is also working on a standard to protect health care and social service workers against workplace violence.

And Haley Bull, who wrote the article for Fox59 has done her research:

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said in 2014 there were more than 21,000 EMS workers treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries or illness.

“The truth is that we’ve been facing these kind of dangers in the field for a very long time now,” Nathaniel Metz, president of the Indiana EMS Association, said.

Metz said more training on how to de-escalate and handle violent situations is needed.

“The more attention that’s brought to it the more that some key stakeholders can help educate and prepare providers in the field to handle these circumstances,” Metz said.

An EMT in New York was recently killed on the job.

Bottom line is that no one should have to choose between their job and their life. That’s why we have the OSHAct that requires employers to provide a safe workplace. Worker also have a limited right to refuse imminently dangerous work, although even with the law on your side, it’s always difficult getting your job back if you get fired. Getting fired is better than not coming home at the end of the work day. But again, it’s not a choice that workers should still have to make in 2017.

OSHA Workplace Violence

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