GAO Report Highlights Violence in Health Care Settings
"It is clear to me that OSHA should move forward and develop an enforceable violence prevention standard to help protect our nation's health care workers. Injuries requiring days away from work are financially and emotionally costly for both employers and workers, and these avoidable injuries put pressure on working families to do more with less," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., ranking member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce and one of the members who requested the report.
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released April 14 recommends actions to address violence directed at the nation's health care workers. Prepared at the request more than two years ago of top Democrats on congressional labor committees, the "Additional Efforts Needed to Help Protect Health Care Workers from Workplace Violence" report describes violence as a serious concern for 15 million health workers in the United States.
It assesses OSHA's actions on the issue, which include inspections of health care workplaces such as hospitals and nursing and residential care facilities, designating a workplace violence coordinator in each regional office, disseminating voluntary guidelines about preventing workplace violence, and adding workplace violence material to the training given to new OSHA inspection personnel. OSHA has not developed a workplace violence prevention standard, and the report says OSHA officials indicated they are not planning one because other hazards have a higher priority for regulatory action.
"Today's GAO report documents a significant problem of violent assaults to workers employed in health care facilities and urges OSHA to take further action to help prevent injuries," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., ranking member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce and one of the members who requested the report. "While GAO has identified a number of states that are tackling this problem through an enforceable rule, OSHA has only issued voluntary guidance. It is clear to me that OSHA should move forward and develop an enforceable violence prevention standard to help protect our nation's health care workers. Injuries requiring days away from work are financially and emotionally costly for both employers and workers, and these avoidable injuries put pressure on working families to do more with less."
There are nine states with workplace violence prevention laws in place that are similar to the components of an effective prevention program as outlined in OSHA's voluntary guidelines. Those nine are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington.
The report says while OSHA's inspections of health care workplaces increased sharply from 11 in 2010 and 19 in 2011 to 71, 67, and 86, respectively, in 2012-2014, no more than six per year during that entire period were workplace violence-related inspections. From 2012 through May 2015, OSHA issued 48 Hazard Alert Letters (HALs) to health care employers recommending actions to address factors contributing to workplace violence, but OSHA couldn't tell the GAO investigators how many of those sites had follow-up investigations because the follow-up status of HALs is not centrally maintained, the report states.
"No worker should ever have to fear facing violence on the job," said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate HELP Committee ranking member. "Unfortunately, as this report makes clear, for far too many health care workers in my home state of Washington and across the country, workplace violence and injuries are a real and growing threat. This is unacceptable. These professionals do vital work in hospitals and other health settings to care for our loved ones, our neighbors, and our communities. I'm going to be working hard with my colleagues and stakeholders to help create a strong, national standard that protects our workers once and for all."
"We have known for some time that our health care workers face unique challenges and risks to their personal safety as the new GAO report makes clear,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., also a member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce. "During my time as the ranking member of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, in 2013 I requested this report from GAO, along with former Congressman George Miller, after hearing about shocking instances of workplace violence against health care workers in Connecticut and from across the country. With 15 million people working in the health care sector, these workers make up a significant portion of our national workforce, and we need OSHA using all of the resources within its power to provide a safe and secure workplace for America's health care professionals," Courtney said.