California State CapitalOn Dec. 7, 2016, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a request for information (RFI) to solicit information on a potential standard to prevent workplace violence in health care and social assistance settings. Currently, federal OSHA has no standard addressing prevention of workplace violence for health care facilities. OSHA’s RFI follows the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (Cal/OSHA’s) action on Oct. 21, 2016, adopting a state standard intended to reduce workplace violence against health care workers in California. Cal/OSHA’s standard is by far the country’s strictest occupational safety and health regulation governing workplace violence for health care workers.

Cal/OSHA’s standard was adopted after nearly two years of meetings and work, and it is monumental for at least three reasons. First, federal OSHA currently has no specific standard governing workplace violence, and it is the first time that a state OSHA agency has adopted a standard addressing the prevention of workplace violence for health care facilities. Second, the standard is by far the country’s strictest occupational safety and health regulation governing workplace violence for health care workers. And third, the California standard sets an extremely high bar for other state OSHA plans, as well as federal OSHA, when these other agencies consider changes to their respective standards.

If federal OSHA mimics Cal/OSHA’s standard, it could create a host of problems, such as broadly covering “health care facilities” without specifying who or what is covered; broadly covering “any threat of violence,” leaving employers to implement significant preventive measures; and requiring provision of safeguards, including personal protective equipment, training and medical services, at no cost to employees.

As expected, Cal/OSHA’s action has started to spread – at first to federal OSHA, and potentially to additional industries. Health care employers, as well as other employers nationwide, should prepare for tougher workplace violence prevention standards and be ready for the related issues that may arise. Companies should consult a team well-versed in OSHA law that can help evaluate workplace violence prevention plans and additional obligations to ensure compliance with the most current legal developments.