Workplace violence citation settled, but debate rages on

By: June 19th, 2017 Email This Post Print This Post

One of the largest public hospitals in the country persuaded OSHA to back off of a citation it had issued regarding the hospital’s workplace violence prevention program, but debate over the program’s adequacy rages on.

Bergen Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Paramus, N.J., pushed back against criticism from a former OSHA official who described the resolution of BRMC’s case as a “cave-in” by the Labor Department, as I mentioned last week. Since then, the former official has responded to the pushback—and discovered that the hospital’s attorney is readily willing to spar about it on Twitter.

Jordan Barab, who served as deputy assistant OSHA secretary during the Obama administration, responded in a blog Friday to BRMC’s claim that he must think “that even a single instance of workplace violence” means a facility’s prevention program is inadequate.

Not true,” Barab wrote, “and BRMC unfortunately had far more than a single case of workplace violence. In fact, the union reports that so far this year, 62 incidents have been reported to a workplace violence committee.”

Barab said he stands by his contention that the hospital, despite fending off the OSHA citation, has serious workplace violence problems. He mentioned the BRMC dispute Thursday evening in a tweet: “They hate me. They really hate me.”

That prompted a response Friday morning from Eric J. Conn, an attorney BRMC hired in 2015 to contest the OSHA citation. “Just want honesty,” Conn wrote. “Hospital PROVED it didn’t violate the law, yet Obama-era OSHA reps who weren’t there to see the proof still slander them.”

Barab shot back: “They had honesty. They can’t handle honesty! OSHA and Workers told truth. Major workplace violence problems before and now.”

Naturally, that’s when Conn borrowed a line from “A Few Good Men,” as one does.

“Seems you can’t handle the truth,” Conn wrote. “The Hospital proved, with actual facts, that its Workplace Violence Prevention Plan complied with the law.”

Then the conversation zoomed out a bit, as Conn and Barab’s debate moved from rehashing the steps of a particular OSHA proceeding to a more fundamental dispute over how much violence we should tolerate and where. (This, in a way, seems to track with the broader debate over a nationwide OSHA standard on workplace violence in healthcare settings.)

“Violence is an issue at any psych hospital,” Conn wrote. “This is the largest mental health facility in NJ, seeing the most acute patients. And still … It manages to have the best performance among its peers in the state in mitigating that risk. Also among the top performers in the US.”

For what it’s worth, the data do seem to support the claim that those offering psychiatric care are subjected to greater rates of violence across the board. In 2013, psychiatric aides experienced the highest rate of violent injuries resulting in days away from work (about 590 per 10,000 full-time employees), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was more than 10 times higher than the next group, nursing assistants.

Barab dismissed the notion that healthcare employers should expect violence against their mental healthcare workers.

“Not an excuse,” Barab wrote. “They have the resources to have an exemplary program where workers aren’t getting hurt. Not part of the job.”

Conn contended that BRMC has the most effective workplace violence prevention program in New Jersey and remains “far better” than the national average: “You clearly believe any violent incident means deficiency. Impossible standard,” he wrote.

Barab accused Conn of making a fallacious argument: “Thanks for BRMC talking points. Union counts 62 incidents this year. Let me know when they get down to one incident a year. #strawman #OSHA”

Conn then accused Barab of overblowing the severity of those incidents: “Almost entirely non-injurious,” he wrote. “The hospital has a wonderful reporting program, where every threat, near miss, minor shove, etc gets reported.”

For more on the debate over a potential workplace violence prevention standard on the federal level, check out my story in last month’s edition of Briefings on Hospital Safety.



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