There’s no way around it. This is a very weighty topic, and one that at one time or another is — or should be–on everyone’s mind. At one time or another we all need to go to a hospital. We expect it to be a safe haven and a place of healing. The problem is that people from all walks of life need or access health care facilities. Some of those people have mental health issues or are simply violent, leaving hospital employees and the public at serious risk. Do you work for or run a health care facility? What can you do to ensure that you, your employees, co-workers and patients are safe? What must you do? I’ve written about workplace violence before (click here, here and here for review). I’ve mentioned that the OSH-Administration says the OSH-Act applies to workplace violence as well as dangerous jobs, chemicals and the like. In the last few years, OSHA (both the Act and the Administration) have become more relevant and will probably continue to do so. Let’s take a closer look then, shall we?
Just last week OSHA cited the operators of Suncoast Behavioral Health Center in Brandenton, Florida for failing to protect its employees from violence at work. They face a total of $71,137 in proposed penalties. Specifically, OSHA responded to complaints of lack of preventive measures against verbal and physical threats of assault, including kicks, punches, and bites, and from using objects as weapons by patients. OSHA in 2016 cited another facility run by the same operators for failure to have an adequate workplace violence prevention program.
Similarly, in February, 2018, OSHA cited Pioneer Health Care Center in Rocky Ford, Colorado for inadequate workplace violence prevention measures. OSHA also identified 5 undocumented incidents of workplace violence in 2017 resulting in employee injuries as well as other unreported incidents. As of February, Pioneer was facing approximately $9,000 in proposed penalties.
These are by no means the only such incidents where OSHA got involved. They’re just 2 from this year alone. But it’s not only the OSH-Administration that is responding to the increasingly alarming issue. Congress has introduced the Healthcare Workplace Violence Prevention Act, which would direct OSHA to create a standard that would require health care facilities to develop and implement facility and unit-specific workplace violence prevention plans. Such plans would include input from doctors, nurses and custodial workers (who would have thought of getting input from the people most at risk?). The bill emphasizes prevention, training and worker participation (again, what a radical idea– oh sorry, I’ll tone down the snark) and includes threats of violence in its definition of workplace violence. Facilities would be required to assess and correct environmental and patient-specific risk factors as well as staffing and security issues. No, this bill is not law, at least not yet. Even if it doesn’t pass though, there’s a good chance there will be a similar federal law at some point.
In the meantime, California already passed a similar law in 2014, known as SB 1299. Now, with new implementing regulations, as of April 1, any healthcare employer that does not have a workplace violence prevention plan in place is in violation of the law and faces significant penalties.
If you are a healthcare employer, the penalty amounts I mentioned may not seem like much to you. Let me remind you that those amounts do not include the time and other resources you will devote to responding to any OSHA complaints or investigations. Then there are lawsuits that may follow, and the legal fees you will pay to defend or respond to both.
What if you are not in health care? Does anything here apply to you? At the very least, you would certainly want to see that health care facilities are safe. Remember, you may need to use one at some point. What if one of your employees gets sick or sustains a job-related injury and needs to use a hospital?
Aside from that, you don’t need me to remind you that while the health care industry is particularly vulnerable when it comes to workplace violence, unfortunately all employers are at risk. Every time we hear about shootings, it’s usually at someone’s workplace. I sorry to point out that these occurrences are, if anything increasing.
Now, I don’t like writing about a problem without at least providing some practical suggestions, so I’m going to try to do that now. Admittedly, they are more geared toward health care employers, but other employers might be able to modify them. Here are some:
- Affix furniture and lighting to floors and walls so they can’t be used as weapons;
- Maintain a clear line of sight between workers while they are caring for patients;
- Provide easy access to panic buttons and phones to call for help;
- If you don’t have a workplace violence prevention plan, develop one and if you do, review and update it;
- In developing and updating your plan, get input from your doctors, nurses, custodial workers — those most at risk;
- Consult with experts. Your patients recognize you are experts in health care and they get their help from you, because they recognize they are not the experts. You are not experts in addressing and preventing workplace violence — but you need them to help you do what you do best.
I am in no way suggesting that these steps alone will be enough, but taking them should at least get you headed in the right direction.
OK, that’s all I’ve got for you. Stay safe out there and see you next week!
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