OSHA to take first steps this fall towards potential rule to curb workplace violence

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will take its first steps, this fall, towards potentially writing a rule to force firms to curb workplace violence – a problem particularly prevalent in the health care industry.

In a response to Press Associates Union News Service, agency spokeswoman Kimberly Darby, said OSHA would put out a “request for information” for more and more detailed evidence from workers and businesses, as well as experts on workplace violence. She did not set a specific deadline for its receipt.

OSHA wants evidence “relevant to the hazard and industry in question” including “the nature of the hazard, risk to workers, evidence of how to protect workers…as well as information on the economic and technological feasibility of addressing” it, she said.

Darby explained that OSHA ordinarily starts considering whether to write a new rule by reviewing its own inspection data and peer-reviewed articles in trade journals, but that is sometimes not enough. Then it puts out the formal request for information, as it will on workplace violence.

It particularly wants data from “the nine states that require certain health care facilities to have some type of workplace violence prevention program,” Darby said. Two states, California and Minnesota, have laws cracking down on firms that ignore workplace violence.

But Darby warned that just seeking information does not guarantee OSHA will act, since it has to balance new requests for rules, such as this one against “the implications of other rulemaking activity already underway and the agency’s ability to take on a new regulatory project,” given limited money and staff.

The request for a new rule came earlier in July from National Nurses United, the leading union for registered nurses in the U.S. RNS have been prime victims of workplace violence, particularly from patients. Injuries are in the thousands and several RNs have been killed in past years.

In mid-July, the Steelworkers, Teamsters, the Government Employees (AFGE) Teachers, Communications Workers, AFSCME, the Service Employees, the AFL-CIO and the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) joined NNU’s petition. The unions joining the petition also include significant numbers of nurses.

In their July 20 letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and OSHA Administrator David Michaels, a public health specialist, NACOSH and the unions asked the agency to “issue a comprehensive standard to prevent workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sectors.”

The rate of workplace violence in health care is extremely high, NACOSH and the unions said: 154 injuries per 10,000 workers in public hospitals, and 228 injuries per 10,000 workers in public nursing homes in 2014, the latest data available.

“More than half (52 percent) of victims of workplace violence, as reported by BLS, are health care or social service workers,” their letter added. “Voluntary efforts by employers are not sufficient to address the scope of this problem.”

Any proposed OSHA standard, they added, should include “a written workplace violence prevention program; hazard assessment and risk evaluation; hazard correction; planning for post-incident response; incident reporting and record-keeping, with special focus on incentives to report all incidents, rather than sweep problems under the rug and training for all employees, including full-time, part-time and contract employees.”

It also must include “protections against retaliation for whistleblowers who report incidents of workplace violence, or practices and policies that could fail to prevent such incidents and full involvement of workers and their unions or other representatives in planning, training, response and evaluation of prevention efforts,” the NACOSH-unions letter said.

Photo: Laurie Grove, RN, testifies at a hearing on workplace violence.  |  video snapshot


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.