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OSHA fines New York hospital over workplace violence

By Bob Herman
Posted: August 12, 2014 - 2:45 pm ET

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, a 790-bed hospital in New York, $78,000 because of dozens of incidents in which patients and visitors assaulted employees. One of the most egregious events left a nurse with severe brain injuries.

Brookdale called that incident a tragedy and emphasized, in a statement, that “workplace violence is a challenge that all healthcare institutions around New York City and the country face.”

Patient and visitor violence is one reason hospitals rank among the most hazardous places to work. According to an OSHA report released last fall (PDF), there are 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time hospital employees—a rate that puts hospitals ahead of other industries like manufacturing and construction. Roughly a third of hospital injuries that result in missed work days stem from interaction with patients, both through violence and patient-handling activities.

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At Brookdale, OSHA found 40 instances of violence from patients and visitors between February and April of this year. Hospital employees faced several forms of physical violence. For example, a patient tripped an employee, injuring the employee's left knee, arms and hands, which resulted in two days away from work.

The most serious incident within OSHA's citation occurred Feb. 7. A patient on the Brooklyn hospital's fifth floor attacked a nurse and repeatedly kicked the nurse in the head, which led to brain damage and “life-threatening injuries.”

“The safety and security of our employees, patients and visitors is and has been our highest priority,” according to Brookdale's statement. “It is completely unacceptable any time a staff member is assaulted while simply doing his or her job to help others.”

“The hazard of workplace violence is a well-known hazard in the healthcare industry,” said Steve Kaplan, an OSHA administrator based in New York. “The question becomes how do these employers, hospitals, nursing homes, etc., react to these hazards? What plans do they develop and implement to reduce or eliminate that hazard?”

OSHA has conducted 114 enforcement inspections related to workplace violence since 2012, Kaplan said. Of those, 75 inspections were conducted at hospitals or other healthcare settings. Fifteen of the healthcare inspections, like the Brookdale case, led to a citation and monetary penalty to address the employers' “inadequate workplace violence program,” he said. Another 31 healthcare inspections resulted in OSHA sending a hazard alert letter, which urges employers to improve their workplace violence program.

OSHA fined Brookdale $70,000 for one “willful violation” of workplace safety regulations and $8,000 for not properly reviewing and providing illness and injury reporting forms. Brookdale said it has cooperated with OSHA's investigation but disputed the agency's finding that it willfully violated any policies.

“We will work through the review process available to employers to correct whatever misinformation led OSHA to issue this citation,” Brookdale said, “but more importantly, we will partner with OSHA to continue improving on our safety and security programs to ensure we provide a safe workplace for our staff and a safe environment for the delivery of the world class healthcare that our patients deserve.”

Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman

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