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Congressmen to OSHA: Pursue a workplace violence prevention program rule for health care

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Photo: Ron Chapple Stock/Ron Chapple Studios/Thinkstock

Washington – Congressional Democrats are urging OSHA to pursue a rule on preventing workplace violence in the health care industry, following the publication of a Government Accountability Office report that concludes the agency could do more to help keep health care workers safe on the job.

The report, issued April 14, reviewed efforts by OSHA to address workplace violence in health care settings. The agency has taken several steps to curb violence in the industry, including issuing guidance and instituting a National Emphasis Program.

However, GAO identified three areas for improvement:

  • Provide inspectors with additional information on developing citations under the General Duty Clause.
  • Instruct inspectors to follow up on warnings they previously issued to health care employers to determine whether identified hazards have been corrected.
  • Assess whether additional action – including the development of a standard – is necessary.

Democratic labor leaders in both the House and Senate called on OSHA to issue a standard that would require health care employers to institute a workplace violence prevention program.

In an April 14 press release, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) said that several State Plan states have a rule addressing the issue, but OSHA has “only issued voluntary guidance.”

“It is clear to me that OSHA should move forward and develop an enforceable violence prevention standard to help protect our nation’s healthcare workers,” Scott said. “Injuries requiring days away from work are financially and emotionally costly for both employers and workers, and these avoidable injuries put pressure on working families to do more with less.”

His call has been echoed by several stakeholders. National Nurses United commended GAO on its report, and urged OSHA to take action.

“To fully protect all healthcare workers in the nation, we need a strong federal OSHA standard requiring workplace violence prevention plans in all hospitals and healthcare facilities. And we need it now,” NNU Director of Health and Safety Bonnie Castillo said in a press release.

In 2013, nearly 25,000 health care employees suffered violence-related injuries severe enough to need time away from work to recuperate, the report states, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The rate of such injuries among multiple health care professions – including nurses and psychiatric assistants and technicians – is significantly higher than the overall worker average.

According to a GAO analysis of National Crime Victimization Survey data, as many as 226,000 health care workers in 2013 were assaulted at least once. This equates to a rate of about 126.5 assaults per 10,000 workers, while the rate for workers in all industries was 38.9.

“No worker should ever have to fear facing violence on the job,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said in a press release. “Unfortunately, as this report makes clear, for far too many healthcare workers in my home state of Washington and across the country, workplace violence and injuries are a real and growing threat. This is unacceptable.”

In response to the GAO report, OSHA administrator David Michaels by and large agreed with GAO’s recommendations. Regarding the potential development of a standard, Michaels said the agency would look into whether such a rule is necessary.

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