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

shutterstock_65596348In its announcement last week, OSHA noted that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for 2013 that over 23,000 significant injuries were due to violent assault at work, with more than seventy percent (70%) of these assaults being in the healthcare and social service settings.

OSHA concluded that healthcare and social service workers are almost “four times as likely to be injured as a result of violence than the average private sector worker.” To bring a reduction to this risk, OSHA has just released an update to its Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers. The Guidelines include what OSHA believes to be “industry best practices,” and provides direction on ways to reduce the risk of violence in various healthcare and social service settings.

These revised Guidelines, that update and broaden the reach of OSHA’s previous 1996 and 2004 Guidelines, incorporate “research in the last decade into the causes of workplace violence on healthcare and social service settings, risk factors that accompany working with patients or clients who display violent behavior, and the appropriate preventive measures that can be taken, amid the variety of settings in which health care and social service employees work.”

Importantly for employers in these industries is that the Guidelines also stress the importance of developing a written workplace violence prevention program. The Guidelines state that a workplace program should include management commitment and employee participation, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training, and recordkeeping and program evaluation. OSHA provides a checklist for employers to use when developing their written programs.

Employers in healthcare and social service settings should view OSHA’s recent update as an opportunity to review their own workplace violence programs and to update those programs as appropriate. At a minimum, employers should ensure that they have a written program in place that hits all of the areas highlighted by OSHA. That step will help ensure a safe workplace and greatly reduce the likelihood of receiving a citation should OSHA conduct an onsite inspection.