Washington – OSHA will pursue a federal standard aimed at preventing workplace violence among health care and social service workers, after receiving petitions from National Nurses United and a coalition of labor unions led by the AFL-CIO.
The agency made the announcement Jan. 10 during a public stakeholder meeting. Representatives from NNU, the AFL-CIO and other organizations attended the meeting, and several health care workers shared stories of physical and verbal abuse by patients.
More hearings could follow as OSHA begins its rulemaking process. At press time, the agency had not announced a specific timetable for its next steps.
The effort to provide better protections for health care and social service workers has gained momentum in recent months. In December, OSHA issued a Request for Information about whether to propose a standard aimed at preventing workplace violence in the two industries, citing a Government Accountability Office report that noted rates of workplace violence in the health care and social service industries were “substantially higher” than in private industry.
“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 that OSHA has granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape,” Bonnie Castillo, health and safety director for Silver Spring, MD-based NNU, said in a press release. “Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other health care workers, as well their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the U.S.”
In Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) has called on OSHA to promulgate a workplace violence standard. Earlier this month, outgoing OSHA administrator David Michaels sent a letter to Scott thanking him for his concern and supporting his position.
“I agree with you that workplace violence is a serious occupational hazard that presents a significant risk for health care and social assistance workers,” Michaels wrote. “Evidence indicates that the rate of workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sector is substantially higher than private industry as a whole and that the health care and social assistance sector is growing. In response to this problem, OSHA has used the General Duty Clause in cases involving employers that expose workers to this recognized hazard in a growing number of workplaces. OSHA has also revised its guidance on preventing workplace violence for health care and social service workers, and has conducted its first comprehensive workplace violence training for its Compliance Officers.
“In addition to these measures, I believe that a standard protecting health care and social assistance workers against workplace violence is necessary.”