By James L. Curtis, Brent I. Clark, Mark A. Lies, and Craig B. Simonsen

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Lakeview Specialty Hospital in Waterford, Wisconsin, for exposing employees to workplace violence at its healthcare facility and treatment center.  This citation is another example of OSHA’s ongoing efforts to hold employers accountable for workplace violence, including criminal activity, committed by third parties.

OSHA initiated an investigation following a complaint that a worker had been threatened and severely beaten by a client at the facility. OSHA’s news release indicates that an investigation found that staff members at the facility had been assaulted numerous times.  OSHA cited the employer for an allegedly serious violation of the agency’s “general duty clause,” for failing to provide a “workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious injury or death.”

Through this citation, OSHA is sending another message to the healthcare industry that OSHA expects hospitals and clinics to anticipate and prevent violent acts by patients or other third parties and that OSHA will issue citations with significant penalties if there are incidents of workplace violence.  OSHA has issued similar citations to employers in the transportation, retail, and foodservice industries where employees regularly come into contact with the public and it can be reasonably anticipated that confrontations can and will arise.  This is especially true of employers with late night operations or facilities in high crime areas.  “‘These citations point to a clear and pressing need for employers operating similar facilities to develop comprehensive and effective programs that proactively address workplace violence situations imperiling the safety and health of their workers,’ said George Yoksas, OSHA’s area director in Milwaukee.”

OSHA has recently adopted a compliance directive, Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Incidents of Workplace Violence. The directive establishes uniform procedures for OSHA field staff in responding to incidents and complaints of workplace violence and in conducting inspections in industries considered “vulnerable to workplace violence,” such as healthcare and social service settings, and late-night retail establishments. In addition, OSHA provides Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers, Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs for Late-Night Retail Establishments, and Preventing Violence Against Taxi and For-Hire Drivers Fact Sheet resource materials.

In light of this citation and similar citations issued to other healthcare employers, retailers and foodservice employers, and transportation employers, employers should take another look at their workplace violence and other OSHA programs to limit their potential exposures and liabilities.