Reducing US Workplace Violence


Time on the job can put one’s life and limbs at-risk in the US. Yet no federal standard on workplace violence exists.

That is a problem. The National Nurses United (NNU), a progressive labor union, has a proposed policy solution.

In July, the NNU sent a written petition to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and OSHA Administrator David Michaels calling for a federal standard that includes a plan to prevent workplace violence. To this end, the union’s missive calls for Uncle Sam to identify workplace violence prevention procedures.

They include: assessing risk factors, correcting hazards and training workers. Organized labor and its allies did not stop there.

Soon after the NNU letter, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), local COSH groups and labor unions, including the AFL-CIO federation, sent a separate letter to Perez and Michaels calling for a comprehensive federal standard to prevent workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sectors.

Their coalition letter reads: “More than half (52%) of victims of workplace violence, as reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, are health care or social service workers. Voluntary efforts by employers are not sufficient to address the scope of this problem.”

A proposed OSHA standard should have “a written workplace violence prevention program; hazard assessment and risk evaluation; hazard correction; planning for post-incident response; incident reporting and record-keeping, with special focus on incentives to report all incidents, rather than sweep problems under the rug and training for all employees, including full-time, part-time and contract employees.”

“With an issue like workplace violence, it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, how can you stop a person who wants to hurt somebody?’” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “But that’s just wrong and ignores documented best practices.

“If you address issues like adequate staffing and lines of communication, worksite security, proper training and safety protocols, there’s no question you can reduce the risks faced by health care and social service workers.”

Telling the truths of risky labor circumstances to the broader public, and government officials, appointed and elected, requires safeguards. Accordingly, the coalition wants “protections against retaliation for whistleblowers who report incidents of workplace violence, or practices and policies that could fail to prevent such incidents and full involvement of workers and their unions or other representatives in planning, training, response and evaluation of prevention efforts.”

Garrett Brown is a retired California OSHA compliance officer. With political gridlock in Washington, DC, over the past decade, advancing a policy proposal for only health care and social assistance workers might be the best bet for progressive success, according to him.

A comprehensive federal standard is an important concept for Paul Apostolidis, a professor of political science at Whitman College in Washington, and author of Breaks in the Chain: What Immigrant Workers Can Teach America about Democracy (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). “The work process itself is violent, resulting in shockingly high rates of injury and illness,” according to him.

“From the viewpoint of the US economy’s most vulnerable workers, the word “comprehensive” stands out in the coalition’s call for better policies to protect workers from violence on the job. Day laborers, domestic workers, and many others in the informal economy routinely face “risk on all sides” (as one Seattle worker put it) when they work.

“Day laborers also endure physical and other kinds of violence at the hands of employers—one Portland day laborer stressed, for instance, that wage theft, which is rampant in day labor, is a form of “violence.” So when we talk about ending violence in the workplace, we need to listen to day laborers and other workers, and go forward with a broad sense of what “violence” means and a clear-eyed view of how structural it is.”

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2016

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