OSHA To Start Rulemaking On Preventing Workplace Violence

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will begin the process of investigation and rule-writing on a proposed rule to force firms – particularly in health care – to take measures against workplace violence.

OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels made the announcement during a day-long hearing on Jan. 10 the issue by an agency advisory council.

His statement responds to a petition the National Nurses United filed six months ago, and support from other unions and professional health care organizations. Michaels repeated his promise in a letter to NNU Health and Safety Director Bonnie Castillo.

While NNU and other unions hailed Michaels’ statement, there are several catches. One is that it came on his last day in office, and another is that the incoming Republican Trump administration could easily stop the investigation and rule-writing in its tracks.

The AFL-CIO doesn’t think they’ll do that, a spokeswoman said. “It’s factually based and evidence based, so it’ll be hard to ignore,” she added. “This is a very severe issue and a problem that is growing.”

Workplace violence is a particular problem in health care, the AFL-CIO, the Steelworkers, the Teamsters, AFSCME, the Communications Workers and the Service Employees told the agency when they supported NNU’s petition for the rule-making.

“Voluntary measures” by employers “are inadequate,” they said. Health care and social service workers suffered 52 percent of all workplace violence injuries in 2014, the latest federal data available show. They’re twice as likely as other workers to be violence victims.

 

And while OSHA has cited and prosecuted many hospitals and nursing homes for failing to protect workers, it’s often had to do so “only after a worker has been injured or killed,” their letter says.

At the hearing, nurses told Michaels and the rest of the panel of the impact workplace violence had on them and their families. While waiting for OSHA to act NNU convinced several states, including California and Minnesota, to move against workplace violence.

California registered nurse Allysha Shin described an incident in her hospital in December where a “combative” patient attacked nurses and staff. 

“The patient ripped out of her restraints, pulled out one of her IVs, tore her gown off, and got out of bed.  She kicked me in the chest and stomach multiple times.  It took approximately six people to re-restrain her to the chair,” said Shin. And service was disrupted for half an hour, she added.

Helene Andrews, a psychiatric nurse at the Danbury (Conn.) Hospital, suffered a broken pelvis and other injuries when a patient attacked her. Andrews, an AFT member, previously briefed legislators about the attack.

Andrews said that while attempting to hand pain medications to a male patient who requested them, “he punched me in the jaw so hard that I was knocked to the floor and my pelvis was broken.” Andrews was out of work for more than six months and had to go through physical therapy and rehab. She still suffers flashbacks.

The hospital did not have a warning system or training for its staff. Such warnings would have alerted Andrews to the patient’s prior history of violence. The unions’ rulemaking request includes requiring health care facilities to warn their staff of violent patients – and train them in how to deal with such situations.

"Our nurses came to D.C. today to speak out on the importance of passing an enforceable workplace violence prevention standard, and we are thrilled to know OSHA granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape," Castillo said in a statement. "Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other healthcare workers, as well as their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the U.S."

“Workplace violence is a serious safety and health problem that has reached epidemic levels in healthcare and social service settings,” said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health.

“Each year tens of thousands of workers are assaulted on the job, suffering serious disabling injuries and even death. Workplace violence is not part of the job. These assaults and injuries can be prevented. We welcome and applaud OSHA’s action accepting the union petitions and commit to working with the agency and other stakeholders to develop a strong workplace violence standard to protect our nation’s healthcare and social service workers.”

But the looming GOP Trump administration includes a nominee for Labor Secretary, fast food magnate Andrew Puzder, who hates pro-worker rules, including those covering safety. OSHA has cited his Hardees and Carl’s Jr. restaurants for safety and health violations.

Puzder’s and Trump’s anti-worker stands won’t deter NNU, Castillo said. “Our nurses fought hard for the protections we now have in California, and we will not stop fighting until those workplace violence protections exist at the federal level. That’s why we applaud OSHA for taking this important step forward” to protect workers, patients and families nationwide. “An enforceable workplace violence standard will save lives.”

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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