On November 16, 2018, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would require employers within the health care and social service industries to develop a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan. The bill broadly defines workplace violence to include:
- The threat or use of physical force against a covered employee that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, psychological trauma, or stress; and
- An incident involving the threat or use of a firearm or a dangerous weapon, including the use of common objects as weapons, without regard to whether the employee sustains an injury, psychological trauma, or stress.
The bill would require OSHA to adopt an “Interim Final Standard” within one year of enactment of the legislation. The bill has received endorsement from The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Government Employees, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Nurses United Steelworkers, and Public Citizen.
In 2015, OSHA issued “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers.” However, the guidance is advisory in nature and is not enforceable. Currently, OSHA enforces workplace violence issues under the “General Duty Clause” (Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act). Under that statutory provision, employers are required to keep the workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Workplace violence is a recognized hazard because studies have established that health care and social service industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence. Nurses and doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, home health care providers and personal care aids are all at high risk of injuries due to violence. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that health care and social service workers suffered 69 percent of all workplace violence injuries, and are nearly 5 times as likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than the workforce in general.
We will provide updated information on the progress of the workplace violence prevention act as it moves through Congress. If you have questions on workplace violence issues or need assistance in developing an effective workplace violence prevention program, please contact our Labor and Employment Section.