Unfortunately, workplace violence is in the news every day. OSHA is paying increasing attention to the workplace violence issue, particularly in the healthcare industry. While there is no specific OSHA regulation addressing workplace violence, a recent decision supports OSHA’s use of the General Duty Clause in workplace violence cases in the healthcare industry.
In Secretary of Labor v. Integra Health Management, No 13-1124 (March 4, 2019), the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) upheld a violation of the General Duty Clause when it found an employer did not adequately address workplace violence hazards. In that case, the company employed “service coordinators” to help its clients obtain medical care. Health insurers send the clients to Integra after reviewing claim histories to identify individuals who are not receiving appropriate care. In this case, a service coordinator was assigned to visit a client at his home and that service coordinator made notes in her report that the client made her “uncomfortable” and detailed his strange behavior. On a following visit to the client, the service coordinator was stabbed by the client nine times and died.
Following an inspection, OSHA issued Integra a citation alleging that the company exposed employees to the hazard of being physically assaulted by clients with a history of violent behavior. A lower court affirmed the citation and found that Integra’s workplace violence policy and training were inadequate and that the company failed to provide the service coordinator with medical and criminal history about the client. The judge also found the company failed to review the notes of the service coordinator and take steps to assist her in working with the client.
Integra appealed the decision on the grounds that the hazard of being assaulted by clients with a history of violent behavior was not a hazard recognized by the industry. Last month, OSHRC upheld the lower court’s decision.
What does this means for employers in the healthcare industry? Employers have to be sure to have a workplace violence policy in place. They must train on the policy, and most importantly, follow the policy. Employers can also audit their work environment and proactively use engineering controls (for example lighting, cameras, emergency exits, panic buttons) and administrative controls (for example, not allowing employees to work alone or ensuring workers have radio or cell communication) to reduce risks. Employers also need to be sure to communicate and respond to employees about workplace violence concerns. If employees have safety concerns and suggestions, be sure to respond to those concerns appropriately and document your responses. Contact a member of the Husch Health and Safety team or Donna Pryor with questions on OSHA compliance assistance or OSHA inspection responses.