A bill intended to reduce workplace violence in the healthcare industry is getting strong support from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and nursing organizations, but a labor lawyer says it prevents stakeholders from having a say in the rulemaking process.
Recently re-introduced by Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT), H.R. 1309 is entitled, "Caring for Our Caregivers: Protecting Health Care and Social Service Workers from Workplace Violence.”
A standard specifically for health care
The measure would direct the Secretary of Labor to issue an occupational safety and health standard that requires covered employers within the health care and social service industries to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.
Each year, approximately 2 million Americans report having been the victim of workplace violence. Workers in the health care and social service industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence: They are nearly five times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury. A 2016 comprehensive review of "Workplace Violence Against Health Care Workers in the United States," published by the New England Journal of Medicine, reports that, although employees in the health care and social service sectors account for 12.2 percent of the workforce, nearly 75 percent of workplace assaults occur in a health care setting. The third leading cause of death for health care workers is workplace violence.
AIHA President Cynthia Ostrowski, CIH, said the data supports action. "Strategies to prevent violence against this category of workers are urgently needed, because we cannot expect them to care about our health and safety if we can't guarantee theirs."
Preventing workplace violence is part of AIHA's Public Policy Agenda, which focuses on 15 critical issues that play an important role in creating a healthy and safe work environment
National Nurses United (NNU), a union and professional association of registered nurses with 150,000 members nationwide, welcomes the measure.
“We urge representatives to support this urgent legislation, before one more worker, patient, family member or visitor becomes a victim of health care workplace violence, which impacts everyone in the vicinity,” said NNU Co-president Jean Ross, RN.
However, Manesh K. Rath, an attorney specializing in labor law, told Congress last week that the immediate adoption of a final interim rule would result in depriving stakeholders their administrative due process right to participate in the development of a standard.
In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Rath - a partner in the law firm of Keller and Heckman – also said the rule would deny OSHA the opportunity to identify workplace violence causes manageable by employers and proven employer intervention techniques.
Courtney said OSHA has had plenty of time to develop strategies for protecting vulnerable workers – and has failed to do so.
“Safety experts, employees, and members of Congress have been pressing OSHA to address this outsized risk of violence for years, but have seen no meaningful action,” said Courtney.
OSHA does offer resources for healthcare industry employers on ways to prevent or reduce the incidence of workplace violence, including a checklist to help identify present or potential problems.
Click here to view Rath’s opening statement.
Click here to watch the Subcommittee's questions for the witness panel
Click here to subscribe to Keller and Heckman's OSHA 30/30 webinar and podcast.
Click here to visit the United Nurses National website.