WASHINGTON – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will begin the process of investigation and rule-writing on a proposed rule to force firms – particularly in health care – to take measures against workplace violence.
OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels made the announcement during a day-long hearing on Jan. 10. His statement responds to a petition the National Nurses United filed six months ago, and support from other unions and professional health care organizations. Michaels repeated his promise in a letter to NNU Health and Safety Director Bonnie Castillo.
While NNU and other unions hailed Michaels’ statement, there are several catches. One is that it came on his last day in office, and another is that the incoming Republican Trump administration could easily stop the investigation and rule-writing in its tracks.
The AFL-CIO doesn’t think they’ll do that, a spokeswoman said. “It’s factually based and evidence based, so it’ll be hard to ignore,” she added. “This is a very severe issue and a problem that is growing.”
Workplace violence is a particular problem in health care, the AFL-CIO, the Steelworkers, the Teamsters, AFSCME, the Communications Workers and the Service Employees told the agency when they supported NNU’s petition for the rule-making.
“Voluntary measures” by employers “are inadequate,” they said. Health care and social service workers suffered 52 percent of all workplace violence injuries in 2014, the latest federal data available show. They’re twice as likely as other workers to be violence victims.
And while OSHA has cited and prosecuted many hospitals and nursing homes for failing to protect workers, it’s often had to do so “only after a worker has been injured or killed,” their letter says.
At the hearing, nurses told Michaels and the rest of the panel of the impact workplace violence had on them and their families. While waiting for OSHA to act NNU convinced several states, including California and Minnesota, to move against workplace violence.
California registered nurse Allysha Shin described an incident in her hospital in December where a “combative” patient attacked nurses and staff.
“The patient ripped out of her restraints, pulled out one of her IVs, tore her gown off, and got out of bed. She kicked me in the chest and stomach multiple times. It took approximately six people to re-restrain her to the chair,” said Shin. And service was disrupted for half an hour, she added.
Helene Andrews, a psychiatric nurse at the Danbury (Conn.) Hospital, suffered a broken pelvis and other injuries when a patient attacked her. Andrews, an AFT member, previously briefed legislators about the attack.
Andrews said that while attempting to hand pain medications to a male patient who requested them, “he punched me in the jaw so hard that I was knocked to the floor and my pelvis was broken.” Andrews was out of work for more than six months and had to go through physical therapy and rehab. She still suffers flashbacks.
The hospital did not have a warning system or training for its staff. Such warnings would have alerted Andrews to the patient’s prior history of violence. The unions’ rulemaking request includes requiring health care facilities to warn their staff of violent patients – and train them in how to deal with such situations.
“Our nurses came to D.C. today to speak out on the importance of passing an enforceable workplace violence prevention standard, and we are thrilled to know OSHA granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape,” Castillo said in a statement. “Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other healthcare workers, as well as their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the US.”
“Workplace violence is a serious safety and health problem that has reached epidemic levels in healthcare and social service settings,” said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health in a statement.
“Each year tens of thousands of workers are assaulted on the job, suffering serious disabling injuries and even death,” she added. “Workplace violence is not part of the job. These assaults and injuries can be prevented. We welcome and applaud OSHA’s action accepting the union petitions and commit to working with the agency and other stakeholders to develop a strong workplace violence standard to protect our nation’s healthcare and social service workers.”
The looming GOP Trump administration includes a nominee for Labor Secretary, fast food magnate Andrew Puzder, who hates pro-worker rules, including those covering safety. OSHA has cited his Hardees’ and Carl Jr. restaurants for safety and health violations.
Puzder’s and Trump’s anti-worker stands won’t deter NNU, Castillo said.
“Our nurses fought hard for the protections we now have in California, and we will not stop fighting until those workplace violence protections exist at the federal level. “That’s why we applaud OSHA for taking this important step forward” to protect workers, patients and families nationwide. “An enforceable workplace violence standard will save lives.”