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GAO: Healthcare workers need more protection from workplace violence

Hospital employees victimized by violence on the job are forced to take time away from work at a rate that's five times higher than workers in other occupations, according to a report.

A review of federal labor data released last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the number of workplace violence incidents at healthcare facilities could be as high as four times higher than the 22,000 incidents reported in 2011.

The report's findings prompted a number of congressional Democrats to call on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to require healthcare employers to put in place workplace violence prevention programs at their facilities.

In 1996, OSHA issued voluntary guidance recommending hospitals develop such programs. Lawmakers said the continuing problem meant tougher standards, including enforceable regulations, are necessary.

“No worker should ever have to fear facing violence on the job,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement. “These professionals do vital work in hospitals and other health settings to care for our loved ones, our neighbors and our communities.”

The report's analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the number of cases reported by employers increased by 12% between 2011 and 2013 from 22,250 cases to more than 24,000. It found the most common forms of violence in healthcare settings involved workers getting kicked, hit and beaten, with the highest rates occurring among workers in state hospitals and nursing and residential care facilities.

The report said OSHA could improve training for inspectors who write citations for workplace violence hazards; follow up on hazard alert letters to make sure an employer is compliant; and determine whether additional action, such as development of a standard, may be needed.


Steven Ross Johnson

Steven Ross Johnson has been a staff reporter for Modern Healthcare magazine since 2013 and covers issues involving public health and other healthcare news. Johnson has been a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Progress Illinois, the Chicago Reporter and the Times of Northwest Indiana and a government affairs reporter for the Courier-News in Elgin, Ill. He received a bachelor's degree in communications from Columbia College in Chicago and a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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