July 25, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – On July 20, the National Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health endorsed petitions signed by a group of labor unions nationwide, calling for federal standards that would put preventive measures in place to protect workers – specifically those in the healthcare and social service sectors.
The unions had earlier filed the petitions with the U.S. Department of Labor, asking the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to issue the standards. The unions included AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Government Employees; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; the United Steelworkers and National Nurses United.
In a letter from National COSH to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels in support of the petitions, the group stated that “Workplace violence is a serious and widespread problem in all sectors of the economy, as already recognized by OSHA. The agency estimates that two million workers each year report that they are victims of violent incidents in the workplace,” and that “More than half (52 percent) of victims of workplace violence, as reported by BLS, are health care or social service workers.”
Jessica Martinez, Acting Executive Director of National COSH, told LaborPress, “Workplace violence is a huge issue; we’ve been working with this issue for many years. OSHA has guidelines and recommendations but not standards. We need a standard that would hold employers legally responsible. We need a program that includes things such as adequate staffing during times of the day when workers are at high risk, for example, a late night shift; we need management commitment to put in place programs on prevention where workers give input on what would make them more safe; we need procedures and analysis to identify hazards in the workplace, and good record keeping to track violent incidents without fear of reprisal against those who report them. Some states, like California and Minnesota, have models in place. We are hoping OSHA will take at a look at these for examples.”
Candice Johnson, Communications Director of Communications Workers of America (CWA), one of the unions that filed the petition, said, “We represent a lot of workers that are impacted heavily by workplace violence. For example, we have New Jersey members who do a lot of child services where there is a high level of incidences. Unfortunately, just in March of this year, Governor Christie vetoed Leah’s Law, named for CWA Local 1083 member Leah Coleman, a social services worker who was brutally attacked in 2014 by a client and stabbed more than twenty times. The law would have put in steps to protect workers by adding more armed security, among other measures. It had strong bi-partisan support, but Christie made cost-cutting the priority over worker safety.”