OSHA Grants Workplace Violence Petition On Director’s Last Day(1)

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By Sam Pearson

A federal rule to curb violence in health-care and similar settings is on a slow path to adoption as OSHA granted Jan. 10 two petitions by labor unions to start work on a new standard.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff were “shocked at the high rate of workplace violence,” which motivated them to grant the petitions, agency director David Michaels told a public meeting Jan. 10.

Michaels took the action as one of his last leading the agency. He told the meeting that Jan. 10 was his final day heading OSHA, a position he held since 2009.

AFL-CIO, the National Nurses United and others, petitioned OSHA in July 2016 for a standard that would require healthcare employers to create violence prevention programs, provide training and investigations, and forbid retaliation if workers seek law enforcement help during violent incidents, among other provisions.

The issue is “not necessarily a new problem, but it is emerging in many ways,” said Rebecca Reindel, senior safety and health specialist at the AFL-CIO, with reports of workplace violence increasing significantly in the past decade.

If finalized, the change could place new requirements on hospitals and other health providers to create workplace violence prevention programs and subject the sites to federal penalties if they fail to adhere to the rules.

The future rules “are vital to protecting nurses and other healthcare workers, as well as their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the U.S.,” Bonnie Castillo, the health and safety director at National Nurses United, said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA Jan. 10.

Could Build on State Policies

At the public meeting, union officials and members told OSHA leaders stories of health-care workers threatened, attacked or beaten by unruly patients as well as policies that had helped improve the problem in some cases. A future OSHA standard could be modeled after a New Jersey law and a recent California regulation, supporters said.

A strong standard could let employers write their own plans, subject to certain requirements, and then require that they follow the proposals when they are complete, OSHA leaders and union officials said.

These policies “can’t just be, train the workers to take down a violent person,” said Mark Catlin, the health and safety director at the Service Employees International Union. “It has to be comprehensive.”

Hospital industry groups have in the past warned a new regulation could impose new costs on their facilities and present implementation challenges if it does not provide hospitals enough flexibility.

Representatives from the American Hospital Association did not respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg BNA Jan. 10.

Long Road Ahead for Rule

Accepting the petition sets in motion a regulatory process that could eventually lead to a final rule on a workplace violence standard, but with President-elect Donald Trump’s administration set to take office, the rule may stall if the next administration is not interested in developing new regulations. Still, the action puts OSHA on record as supporting the action.OSHA published a request for information in December to seek feedback on a potential standard for workplace violence in health-care and social assistance settings, with a public comment deadline of April 6.The rulemaking will be “a slow process, under the best of conditions,” OSHA Deputy Assistant Director Jordan Barab said, and OSHA will need accurate data to quantify the costs and benefits of the plan.

Winding Down Administration

With Michaels’ departure, Barab said he will serve as acting director through Jan. 20—Inauguration Day.

Michaels is scheduled to return to George Washington University Jan. 17 as a professor and begin teaching the course “Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Policies, Politics and Programs.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Pearson in Washington at spearson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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