The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will review OSHA’s voluntary workplace violence prevention guidelines. This is a development of particular interest to healthcare workers, as half of all non-fatal workplace violence injuries occur in healthcare and social services settings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The GAO is responding to a letter sent in December 2013 by members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Those members of Congress were urged to take action by members of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that represents teachers, government employees and healthcare professionals such as nurses.
The AFT has championed this issue for many years, pushing for legislation and regulations to address the problem of workplace violence. In addition to advocating changes in federal laws, advocates and unions have called for state lawmakers to address the issue. These results have been successful in many states, including New York and New Jersey.
Among the questions that the GAO will try to answer are
- Has OSHA taken the needed steps to protect workers from workplace violence?
- To what extent have state regulations prevented violence in work settings?
- Should the OSHA guidelines on workplace violence be changed into enforceable standards, rather than voluntary guidelines?
According to OSHA, nearly two million U.S. workers are victims of workplace violence each year. And these are only the reported cases; many more go unreported.
Nurses and healthcare workers are not the only employees vulnerable to workplace violence. According to OSHA, workers who handle money, working with unstable people, working alone or in isolated areas, working where alcohol is served and providing services and care are more likely to experience workplace violence. Such employees include delivery drivers, public service workers, customer service agents, and law enforcement personnel.