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Medical facility settles OSHA workplace violence citations

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has withdrawn a general duty clause citation issued against a New Jersey medical center as part of a settlement agreement on workplace violence prevention.

The settlement requires Paramus, New Jersey-based Bergen Regional Medical Center L.P. to take steps to prevent violence in the workplace, according to an OSHA press release issued last week.

In 2014, the agency notified the medical center that its employees were exposed to hazardous conditions associated with workplace violence and that it had not developed or implemented adequate measures to protect workers from assaults, according to the press release. A February 2015 agency inspection found the center’s workplace violence program to be inadequate because hazards had not been addressed effectively and workers were in continued jeopardy.

As part of the settlement, the general duty clause citation for keeping the workplace free of hazards was withdrawn and OSHA increased the penalty for a repeat citation for incorrectly recording workplace injuries on the OSHA 300A illness and injury reporting form to $14,000 from $13,600 initially proposed. The medical center agreed to withdraw its notice of contest to the citations and amended penalties and affirmed that the recordkeeping violation has been abated, according to the settlement agreement.

Bergen Regional Medical Center also agreed to make improvements to its health care workplace violence prevention program and to submit verification of these changes to OSHA by July 1. The program includes employee training, notification to employees on policies and procedures for reporting of violence incidents, post-incident review and hazard evaluation.

The medical center agreed to consent to and cooperate with OSHA inspections of its facility to monitor compliance with the settlement without requiring the agency to obtain subpoenas or warrants, according to the settlement agreement.

“This settlement holds Bergen Regional Medical Center L.P. accountable for ensuring it has an effective workplace violence prevention program that makes employee safety and health paramount,” Robert Kulick, OSHA regional administrator in New York, said in a statement.

The medical center highlighted the withdrawal of the citation in its statement about the settlement on June 2.

“As the complete picture of the medical center’s (workplace violence prevention program) became clear through the citation contest process, it was determined OSHA’s original allegation was misplaced and OSHA vacated the citation,” the center said.

Emerson, New Jersey-based Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5091, which represents employees of the medical center, surveyed its 520 members and found 20 of the 106 employees who responded reported that they were assaulted on the job in the past 12 months, including hair pulling, pinching, punches to the head, kicks, verbal abuse and spitting, according to an April report. Of the 20 members assaulted, 25% required medical treatment.

But only 65% of assaulted members reported the incident to a supervisor, while 33% of the 106 members who responded to the survey said the process for reporting assaults was unclear.  

After reviewing the settlement, the union has concerns with the assessed fines, misinformation cited in the agreement and whether the settlement does enough to improve violence prevention safety measures, according to a statement released on Thursday.

“Given the history and extent of workplace violence at (Bergen Regional Medical Center), a fine of $14,000 is just considered the cost of doing business, a slap on the wrist,” said Bernie Gerard, vice president of the union, which filed the complaint that initiated the OSHA inspection and citations at the heart of the settlement.

The union supports the “rigid” controls for conducting meetings, training committee members, conducting hazard analysis, performing accurate incident reporting and tracking violent patients outlined in the settlement, but disputes management claims made in the settlement.

“Theoretically meetings are scheduled, but management does not provide staff the time to take time off to attend meetings,” he said.