Recently, an administrative law judge affirmed the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) findings that a Louisville, Colorado, hospital exposed its employees to workplace violence. Following the DOL’s investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the employer for unlawful exposure to workplace violence hazards. OSHA previously fined a discount retailer $330K for workplace safety violations that ultimately led to a fatal shoplifting incident.

Background of the Investigation

According to the investigation, the hospital exposed direct care providers, like nurses and mental health technicians, to aggressive patients. Subsequently, some patients regularly assaulted and seriously injured the employees. In response to the findings, OSHA cited the hospital with a $10,229 penalty. However, the hospital contested the citations in May 2019, leading to a lengthy trial in September 2021.

OSHA on Workplace Violence

According to OSHA, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. This can include threats and verbal abuse, physical assaults, and even homicide.

OSHA requires several written safety plans that depend on the actual workplace and the work performed. Some of these are based on risk factors that can contribute to violence hazards. Indeed, high-risk entities often include:

  • those that have contact with the public,
  • individuals who work alone or in small numbers.
  • employees working late at night, and
  • those working with unstable or volatile persons, such as in health care and social service.

However, OSHA maintains that the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. For example, employers can establish a zero-tolerance policy toward violence.

Penalties for Failing to Prevent Violence

In July 2022, Administrative Law Judge Patrick Augustine affirmed the results of the DOL’s investigation and OSHA’s subsequent $10,229 citation against the hospital. In addition, Judge Augustine found OSHA’s proposed abatement measures feasible. These abatement measures would control the violence hazard at the hospital and include:

  • implementing a workplace violence prevention program,
  • employee training on violence prevention,
  • providing workers with communication devices (e.g., radios and panic alarms),
  • rearranging nurse stations to prevent unauthorized access by patients,
  • ensuring adequate staff that can safely handle aggressive or escalating patients, and
  • post-incident debriefings and investigations.

Workplace Violence Prevention Training eLearning Module

Failure to protect employees from violence in the workplace can result in fines and penalties under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act and/or related state regulations. Additionally, employers can be found negligent in court if they cannot prove that they took all reasonable measures to prevent a violent incident from occurring. Therefore, to help employers prevent serious injuries and fatalities resulting from workplace violence hazards, Personnel Concepts created the Workplace Violence Prevention Training eLearning Module. The interactive training program covers risk factors and types of incidents. Employees also learn ways to recognize signs of potentially violent behavior and procedures for responding to violence in the workplace.