The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified violence in healthcare settings as a significant occupational risk, and a new workplace violence standard for the healthcare industry could be on the horizon, According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, incidents of violence against healthcare workers increased more than 60 percent from 2011 to 2018, and healthcare and social service workers were five times more likely to experience workplace violence than other workers. The reasons for such violence vary, but factors leading to violence in the healthcare and home care setting may include patients’ or their families’ anger or confusion over medical diagnoses, frustration with staffing shortages, mental health issues, and general outrage over social or political issues.

The General Duty Clause imposes an obligation on employers to provide each worker with “employment and a place of employment … free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Given OSHA’s focus on the issue, a new federal workplace violence standard for healthcare settings could be on the horizon. In January 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its Fall 2022 Statement of Regulatory Priorities, indicating that OSHA will move toward rulemaking on a workplace violence standard for the healthcare industry.

OSHA’s new proposed standard would likely require healthcare employers to develop a workplace violence prevention plan that covers workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and others. The standard would also likely require employers to provide mandatory training and retain records of incidents within the workplace. Additionally, the standard would likely apply broadly to healthcare facilities, hospitals, drug treatment centers, emergency medical services (EMS), in-home and outpatient care providers, and other healthcare settings.

Key Takeaways

Workplace violence in healthcare settings appears to be a growing issue. Potential rulemaking from OSHA could provide additional guidance for healthcare employers on how to address workplace violence, but will likely also create additional compliance requirements for healthcare employers. In the meantime, healthcare employers may want to review their workplace safety policies and protection plans with respect to how they address potential workplace violence threats.