Nurses' union contract features first-in-nation needlestick and workplace violence benefit

A nurses’ union in California is celebrating what it calls a first-in-the-nation workplace safety benefit in its new agreement with Centinela Hospital.

Approved in December, the contract between the hospital and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) offers the hospital’s nurses an employer-paid needlestick and workplace violence insurance benefit.

“In view of the fact that there are nurses that have musculoskeletal injuries and that they are exposed to certain risk factors, I think that (the hospital) recognized that the nurses wanted (coverage),” said DeAnn McEwen, president of CNA/NNU and vice president of NNU.

“Centinela Hospital Medical Center is ranked in the top 5 percent of hospitals nationwide in great part because of its nurses and physicians,” said Linda Bradley, chief executive officer of Centinela Hospital Medical Center, in a statement announcing the labor agreement. “This shows the commitment Centinela Hospital and its nurses have for the community and its long-term healthcare needs.”

Nurses work in high-risk environments where workplace violence and needlestick injuries are a constant concern for nurses, McEwen said.

While getting a handle on the scope of workplace violence is difficult due to underreporting, an Emergency Nurses Association study released in 2011 found that the overall frequency of physical violence and verbal abuse for ER nurses was 54.5 percent (with physical violence occurring in 0.8 percent of cases).

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 384,000 needlestick injuries happen in hospitals each year. A 2010 study of 87 hospitals across the country reviewing sharps injuries from 1993 through 2006 found that while non-surgical sharps injuries had dropped after the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000, injuries in surgical settings increased.

[See also: Protecting workers against violence is worth the cost.]

The safety benefit agreed to in the new three-year contract is an employer-paid enhanced accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy. Coverage is available to all active full-time RNs and first-year graduate nurses or nurse practitioners working a minimum of 15 hours per week.

Needlestick injuries and workplace violence injuries can be long-term and career ending, said Kathy Gray-Siracusa, RN, PhD, assistant professor at Villanova University’s College of Nursing, so Centinela’s workplace safety benefit is “wonderful.” “It’s nice to know that your organization is supporting you, just in case something happens, and with the environment, it’s definitely a risk that it may happen while you’re on duty almost any day,” she said.