Regulatory Developments

OSHA Will Pursue Violence Standard to Protect Healthcare Workers

As one of his final acts while serving as assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, outgoing OSHA chief David Michaels has granted petitions to begin rulemaking to protect healthcare workers from violence. Find out what the agency is planning.

Before leaving the post he held for seven years, Michaels granted five petitions to promulgate an OSHA workplace violence standard to protect workers in health care and social assistance. OSHA has been concerned about violence in this sector for some time and issued guidance on the topic in 2015.

According to that document, there were about 24,000 workplace assaults between 2011 and 2013, with between 70 and 74 percent occurring in healthcare and social service settings. For these workers, assaults comprise more than 10 percent of workplace injuries involving days away from work. That compares with 3 percent of injuries of all private sector employees.

In a letter to National Nurses United (NNU), one of the petitioners, Michaels pointed to the guidelines and noted that the agency has used the general duty clause in cases involving health worker violence. “In addition to these measures,” he wrote, “I believe that a standard protecting healthcare and social assistance workers against workplace violence is necessary. OSHA is granting your petition and will commence rulemaking to address the hazards of workplace violence.” The agency has published a request for information on the topic, which will close on April 6, 2017.

Last year, NNU and other labor groups petitioned OSHA to take regulatory action. Other petitioners include the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the Service Employees International Union. The petitions were supported by the industrial hygiene program director at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

Michaels, who is OSHA’s longest-serving administrator, will return to his post as a professor of occupational and environmental health at George Washington University. Jordan Barab, his longtime deputy at OSHA, is currently serving as acting assistant secretary.