Regulate Violence in Health Care, Lawmakers Tell OSHA

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By Stephen Lee

July 18 — Four leading Democrats in the House and Senate called on the federal government to regulate workplace violence in health-care settings July 18.

In their letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, the signatories—Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.)—said that workers in health-care and social service settings face significant risk of injury from violence.

In 2013, more than 150,000 health-care workers reported at least one assault in the workplace, the letter read, citing Bureau of Justice statistics.

“Federal injury data shows that the rate of workplace violence at health-care facilities is high and rising—at some psychiatric facilities, the rates of violence are extreme,” read the lawmakers' letter. “Indeed, the rate of violent injury may even be understated, as research suggests workers fail to report these injuries due to various barriers such as fear of reprisal, and the idea that injury is ‘part of the job.' ”

Because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't have a specific violence standard, it can only crack down on employers that expose their workers to violence through the Occupational Safety and Health Act's so-called general duty clause. To many worker advocates, however, that approach doesn't offer enough protection because it requires OSHA to clear a high legal bar.

The lawmakers bolstered their case by referencing a March report from the Government Accountability Office that found that federal inspectors need more support in developing violence citations.

In Lockstep With Unions

The letter follows a recent push from the nation's biggest unions. On July 11 and July 12, the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, National Nurses United, United Steelworkers, Communications Workers of America, American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Government Employees and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees all petitioned OSHA for a violence rule in health-care workplaces.

The unions want the rule to require a written prevention program, a hazard assessment, written procedures for hazard fixes and post-incident response, an incident reporting system and training.

Murray and Franken are the ranking members on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and its Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. Scott and Wilson are the ranking members on the Education and the Workforce Committee and its Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Courtney preceded Wilson as the top Democrat on the House subcommittee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bna.com

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

For More Information

The lawmakers' letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is available at http://tinyurl.com/hzf3lnz .

The GAO report “Additional Efforts Needed to Help Protect Health Care Workers From Workplace Violence” is available at http://tinyurl.com/gvexgjj .

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