An administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) citation of UHS of Delaware Inc. (UHS-DE) and UHS of Fuller Inc. for exposing their employees to workplace violence without adequate protections at the Fuller Hospital in Attleboro, Massachusetts, OSHA announced April 25.
Review Commission ALJ Carol A. Baumerich found the companies operated Fuller Hospital as a single employer and affirmed OSHA’s serious citation. The judge also determined that OSHA’s proposed abatement measures were feasible and that they would materially reduce the hazard of workplace violence.
OSHA’s proposed abatement measures included the following:
- Ensuring units are adequately staffed to handle behavioral health emergencies,
- Providing employees with personal panic alarms,
- Adequately training new employees,
- Conducting post-incident debriefings and investigations, and
- Providing trained security personnel on all three shifts.
Baumerich also sanctioned both companies for destroying surveillance videos showing workplace violence, sanctioned UHS-DE for failing to comply with its discovery obligations, and ordered the companies to pay the Labor Department (DOL) $20,175 in attorneys’ fees.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts previously ordered UHS-DE and UHS-Fuller to pay the department $30,515 in attorneys’ fees after they failed to comply with an OSHA-issued subpoena for the surveillance videos in the case.
Prompted by employee complaints, OSHA initiated an inspection in June 2019 of the 102-bed behavioral health facility that provides acute inpatient hospitalization for adolescents and adults. Inspectors found the hospital’s lack of safeguards subjected staff to workplace violence. Incidents included workers being kicked, punched, slapped, bitten, and getting their hair ripped out, and some suffered repeated concussions. Over 500 incidents of aggression occurred at Fuller Hospital during a 7-month period, according to OSHA.
“Employers who do not take all feasible steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in their workplace can be cited and fined,” Galen Blanton, OSHA’s Boston regional administrator, said in an agency statement.
“Like any other employer, industry leaders like UHS of Delaware Inc. must comply with the law. When employers do not adequately protect their workers from workplace violence, the U.S. Department of Labor will use all legal tools at our disposal to make them do so,” Maia Fisher, the DOL’s Boston regional solicitor of labor, said.
There’s no federal workplace violence standard. The agency currently cites employers under the General Duty Clause (§5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
In 1996, the agency issued voluntary prevention guidelines for health care and social assistance.
OSHA now has a rulemaking to establish a workplace violence prevention standard for health care and social assistance, and the workplace violence rulemaking is one of six economically significant rulemakings at the agency.
The rulemaking is in the prerule stage. On December 7, 2016, OSHA published a request for information (81 Fed. Reg. 88147) seeking information about the history of workplace violence prevention in health care and social assistance. The agency announced plans last year to begin a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review of the rulemaking.