25 August 2015

OSHA Issues New Workplace Violence Guidelines for the Health Care Industry

It came as no surprise that hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities were included when the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) released its list of “high hazard” targeted industries in its most recent strategic plan  After all, the health care industry has one of the highest rates of work related injuries and illnesses.  Health care workers are exposed to a wide variety of hazards ranging from ergonomic injuries related to lifting, bending and reaching to exposure to bloodborne pathogens and respiratory hazards.

Recently, however, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released new guidance regarding a hazard in the health care industry not typically associated with OSHA – workplace violence.

OSHA has recognized workplace violence as a significant hazard for the health care industry.  For instance:

  • In 2013, 27 out of the 100 workplace fatalities in health care settings were due to assaults and violent acts
  • For health care workers, assaults comprise 10-11% of workplace injuries involving days away from work
  • Annually between 2011 and 2013, 70-74% of all workplace assaults occurred in a health care setting

OSHA’s new “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health care and Social Service Workers” is the first update

to guidance first issued in 2004.  The guidance addresses five clinical settings: hospitals, residential treatment facilities, non-residential treatment facilities, community care settings, and field work.  The guidance is designed to assist health care employers in identifying and assessing workplace violence hazards and developing a violence protection plan, including suggestions for various engineering controls and workplace adaptions that address specific conditions.  The guidance also contains sample checklists and policies that health care employers may use, in whole or in part.  OSHA’s new guidance can be found at:

Although neither MIOSHA or OSHA have issued a “workplace violence” standard, the “General Duty Clause” requires employers to provide their workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  Both the state and federal agency will use the General Duty Clause to address workplace violence issues.  In fact, in the last few years, MIOSHA has issued citations to multiple Michigan health care institutions following assaults against employees by patients and visitors.

Employers are encouraged, therefore, to review their workplace to assess their policies designed to identify and address workplace violence hazards.  The Employment – Health Care practice at Miller Johnson regularly assists clients in MIOSHA and OSHA compliance, and can help health care employers assess their legal obligations, develop policies and procedures to meet those obligations, and defend themselves against possible enforcement actions.