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OSHA penalizes psychiatric clinic for not protecting staff

When the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigates a workplace in the Philadelphia area, typically matters involving safety equipment and the facility itself are in question. However, one recent OSHA investigation was quite different. This time OSHA was looking into violence prevention efforts to protect employees at a psychiatric clinic in western Pennsylvania.

Considering OSHA concerns itself with protecting workers from workplace injury, the investigation seems appropriate especially considering an incident last year in which a gunman shot six people at the clinic.

In regard to the investigation, OSHA hired a professor from a university nursing program and paid her almost $31,000 to review workplace violence at the Pennsylvania clinic where a mentally ill gunman shot and killed one worker and wounded five others before being fatally shot. According to the professor's findings, the clinic's efforts focus almost entirely on patient safety with little attention to ensuring the safety of staff. She noted reluctance on the part of the clinic to recognize the problem of workplace violence rooted in a fear of stigmatizing the mentally ill and developmentally disabled patients who may have the potential for violence.

A spokeswoman voiced disagreement with the report filed by the professor, saying the medical center works to protect the rights and safety of patients, staff, and visitors in the facility. She added that OSHA hadn't cited the hospital network for safety violations after the shooting incident. OSHA did, however, issue a letter advising the center on how to improve prevention of workplace violence, the spokeswoman said, adding that the recommended measures had all either been implemented or were in the process of being implemented, all at a cost of about $10 million.

The vice president of the union representing about 200 workers at the clinic concurs with the professor's reported findings, saying those findings "reflect employee experiences."

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Report to OSHA: Pa. clinic overlooks worker safety," Jan. 2, 2013

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