Personnel Safety, Regulatory Developments

ASSP Urges Advancement of Two Safety Bills Before House

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) urged House members to advance two workplace safety bills—one mandating a federal workplace violence prevention standard and another to make several changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).
Capitol building
The ASSP sent letters to the bills’ sponsor and the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections chair and ranking member with technical comments on the following bills:

  • The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (HR 1309 & S 851), which would authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a standard requiring healthcare and social services employers to develop and implement comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans; and
  • Protecting America’s Workers Act (HR 1074), which would make several changes to the OSH Act, including expanding OSHA’s authority to protect federal, state, and local government employees as well as adding stronger monetary penalties and prison terms for certain safety violations.

Workplace Violence Prevention

The ASSP pointed to the high incidence of workplace violence in the healthcare and social services sectors in its support of the workplace violence prevention bill.

“Three years ago, OSHA issued a request for information on workplace violence prevention, but we are not aware of any further action despite workplace violence becoming a greater hazard across the country,” ASSP President Rixio Medina said in a statement.

The group pointed to several facts about workplace violence reported in:

  • A 2016 Government Accountability Office report that rates of violence against healthcare workers can be 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce and that 70 percent of nonfatal workplace assaults occurred in the healthcare and social assistance sectors; and
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that healthcare and social service workers suffered 69 percent of all workplace violence injuries in 2016.

The bill, if enacted, would enable OSHA to issue a workplace violence prevention program standard and cite employers for violations of the standard even in the absence of an incident of workplace violence. The agency currently cites employers under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act after a worker fatality or injury.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission recently upheld an OSHA citation of Integra Health Management for a General Duty Clause violation after an Integra employee was stabbed by a client and later died.

The ASSP pointed out that OSHA’s use of the General Duty Clause is reactive rather than preventive.

The group also pointed out that healthcare and social services employees often are public sector employees. Public sector employees only have workplace safety and health protections in states that have chosen to administer their own occupational safety and health programs and specifically include public sector workers.

PAW Act

The Protecting America’s Workers (PAW) Act would extend OSHA’s authority to cover all federal, state, and local government employees.

It also would make several other amendments to the OSH Act, including:

  • Extending the statute of limitations for whistleblower complaints to 180 days. Claims of retaliation for reporting workplace safety hazards currently must be filed within 30 days.
  • Expansion of OSHA’s authority under the General Duty Clause to cite employers that expose another employer’s workers to a safety hazard. Currently, controlling employers at multiemployer sites only are liable if the hazard violates a specific standard.
  • Adding a requirement that employers immediately abate hazards even if they contest OSHA citations.
  • Mandating that OSHA immediately “incorporate by reference” the current versions of consensus standards referenced in regulations when OSHA was first formed in the 1970s.
  • Creating a new “knowing” class of violations with personal criminal fines of up to $250,000 and penalties of up to 10 years in prison, and corporate penalties of up to $500,000 for violations arising from a worker fatality.

However, the ASSP did not see a need for other sections of the Act that would:

  • Restore the requirements of the 2016 Electronic Recordkeeping Act because the ASSP felt the courts and OSHA should address electronic recordkeeping issues;
  • Codify a rule permitting OSHA to cite an employer for continuing violations beyond 6 months because the rule was rescinded by Congress under the Congressional Review Act; and
  • Codify OSHA’s severe injury reporting rule because such cases have always had priority status for inspection purposes, and the ASSP saw little need to codify the rule.