We usually think of OSHA in the context of injuries caused by dangerous equipment or machinery. But sometimes workplace injuries are caused by people.

In the healthcare sector, the problem is particularly acute. A Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Crime Victimization Survey that found that 70-74% of reported workplace assaults between 2011 and 2013 were in health care and social service settings. A significant workplace hazard for healthcare workers is not fellow employees, but the patients.

In April 2015, OSHA issued new guidelines for preventing workplace violence for healthcare and social service workers. Since then, OSHA has been increasingly citing (and fining) healthcare facilities for failing to protect their employees from workplace violence.

The guidelines recommend that healthcare employers adopt a written program to assess and prevent workplace violence. The essential elements of an effective program include: (1) management commitment and employee participation; (2) worksite risk analysis; (3) hazard prevention and control; (4) safety and health training for all employees; and (5) record keeping and evaluation. As with all employment policies and procedures, the program should be reassessed on a regular basis.

The OSHA guidelines are only advisory. But employers have an obligation to provide their employees “with a place of employment [that is] free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” An employer’s compliance with the guidelines will be a factor in OSHA’s assessment of whether that obligation has been met.

The OSHA guidelines are available here.