GAO will review workplace violence in healthcare

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In healthcare, the potential for violence is always present. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of all nonfatal injuries resulting from workplace assaults occur in healthcare and social services settings. Nurses and other health professionals are often in harm's way, becoming victims of violence. Thanks to the AFT's recommendation to key members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office has agreed to review the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's voluntary guidelines for workplace violence prevention in healthcare to determine if they are strong enough to protect healthcare workers.

Last fall, AFT staffers met with the staffs of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), who are members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, to discuss the possibility of a study by the GAO. The lawmakers sent a letter to the GAO in December requesting such a study.

"We discussed in detail the disturbing prevalence of violence in healthcare, and they saw our argument," says Darryl Alexander, director of the AFT's department of health, safety and well-being.

The AFT has for a number of years pushed for legislation and regulations to address the problem of workplace violence that is prevalent in healthcare and long-term care facilities. "We're excited to get things going," says Alexander. "Ultimately, the goal is to work with Congress to come up with an effective strategy to create comprehensive federal legislation and regulations to curb the violence."

Unions and other advocates have put pressure not only on employers but also on state lawmakers to address the issue of workplace violence. Legislation calling for the creation of workplace violence programs or establishing penalties for acts of workplace violence aimed at health professionals has been adopted in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.

"States have tried to address the problem, but we need federal leadership on this issue," says Alexander.

The GAO has been asked to determine if the OSHA has taken sufficient steps to protect workers exposed to violence; whether legislative and regulatory models adopted by several states have been effective; and whether enforceable OSHA standards would be more appropriate than voluntary guidelines to adequately protect workers. The study is expected to get under way in a few months. [Adrienne Coles]

January 29, 2014