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OSHA standard on preventing violence in health care ‘a priority,’ Marty Walsh tells lawmakers

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Photo: Department of Labor/Flickr

Washington — OSHA will prioritize rulemaking for a standard on preventing workplace violence in health care and social settings, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh testified during a May 17 House subcommittee hearing.

Asked about the possible standard by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Walsh said OSHA’s work on temporary standards related to the COVID-19 pandemic took up much of the agency’s standard-making bandwidth over the past two-plus years. OSHA being “significantly understaffed” hasn’t helped, he added.

“I will promise you right now that I will make this a priority,” said Walsh, who noted that he met with a group of nurses the previous week – during National Nurses Week – and “one of the issues they brought up was workplace violence, not just during COVID but pre-COVID.”

The potential standard has remained in the pre-rule stage on the Department of Labor’s semiannual regulatory agenda since spring 2018, when it moved from the list of “long-term actions.” According to the most recent regulatory agenda, issued Dec. 10, OSHA and the Small Business Administration were expected to convene a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel sometime in the near future.

Budget talk

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the subcommittee, noted in her opening statement that the White House is seeking a $355 million budget increase for worker protection agencies. That includes a proposed $89 million increase for OSHA, to roughly $701 million.

Some of the money would be used to hire nearly 500 more full-time equivalent workers for OSHA – including 179 new inspectors. The agency had an all-time low of 750 inspectors at the end of fiscal year 2021, according to a Bloomberg Law report published Nov. 16.

DOL also is seeking to hire:

  • 75 safety technicians
  • 63 support personnel in federal enforcement
  • 63 FTE workers for its whistleblower programs
  • 60 FTE workers to help with federal compliance assistance
 

“Supporting our workers means maintaining a strong commitment to worker protection,” DeLauro said. “I’m pleased to see the request for an increase of $355 million for worker protection agencies to rebuild this critical mission that has gone underfunded for decades.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said the funding levels in the administration’s budget request are the same as those that were “resoundingly rejected by Congress from the last budget.”

Cole added: “The fiscal year 2022 appropriations represents a compromise. … We came together and funded joint priorities in a bipartisan manner at reasonable levels. I certainly hope that we can do that again for fiscal year 2023.”

At press time, neither the House Appropriations Committee nor its Senate counterpart had released a budget proposal for DOL.

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