A pressing issue Iowa workers face is workplace violence, which is why standards are required to maintain a safer work environment. Professionals, such as nurses, social workers, and emergency responders, are often at risk of harm. A recently introduced federal standard would help give Iowa’s workforce the protection they need.

Is Workplace Violence on the Rise?

Many healthcare and social service employees are exposed to harm and are without sufficient protection against workplace violence. The numbers reflect a serious problem when it comes to violence: The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) found that 450 homicides resulted directly or indirectly from workplace violence in 2017. Additionally, the organization determined that there was an 80% increase in serious workplace violence injuries for healthcare and social service employees in the last decade.

Healthcare and social service workers are also 4.7 times more likely to sustain injuries as a result of workplace violence than other employees. Women are most frequently affected, with female workers harmed in two out of three workplace violence events.

With the growing epidemic of workplace violence and subsequent work-related injuries, it’s important for businesses to take the necessary steps to protect their employees.

A New Proposed Standard to Prevent Workplace Violence

The AFL-CIO introduced new legislation that would help make the workplace safer for many vulnerable employees. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act would put into place a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard to minimize the risk of workplace violence.

The standard would specifically work to reduce and prevent injuries to workers that are serious, life-altering, and foreseeable in nursing homes, social service facilities, and hospitals. Once implemented, health care and social service sectors would be required to implement an actionable plan to keep workers consistently safe from violence. In turn, protecting workers more effectively would help keep patients safer in many of these environments.

Taking Steps to Reduce Workplace Violence

In introducing the new standard, the AFL-CIO hopes that workers will have a chance to remain safer on the job while patients benefit from a safer environment. While more work is needed to significantly reduce workplace violence, the legislation is a step in the right direction in giving workers sufficient protection in particularly dangerous sectors.

In Iowa, eight workers filed federal complaints against the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) claiming that the agency practiced gross negligence that put workers at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. The workers represent employees in various industries, including health care, meatpacking, nursing homes, transportation, and others.

An Alleged Failure to Protect Workers

With the help of civil rights groups, the workers filing the complaint against Iowa OSHA want to force the agency to take steps to protect workers from potentially deadly working conditions. These workers and groups filed a Complaint About State Program Administration (CASPA) in the hope that it would encourage federal OSHA to investigate the alleged negligent practices of its Iowa branch.

The complaint, filed in November 2020, specifically claims that several Iowa workplaces failed to put proper protections in place for workers and that Iowa OSHA failed to investigate complaints regarding those workplaces. Iowa OSHA has previously come under fire for failing to investigate potentially life-threatening conditions that could result in construction accidents and other incidents.

The groups filing the CASPA complaint include the American Friends Service Committee Iowa, the ACLU of IOWA, the Iowa AFL-CIO, Forward Latino, and others. In addition to groups in Iowa, the Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting (IIIFFC) are also involved.

Violating Rules Regarding On-Site Inspections

Iowa OSHA has specific rules in place for conducting on-site inspections. The agency is required to conduct an investigation if:

  • A formal complaint that a worker has signed contains allegations of dangerous working conditions that may lead to serious physical harm
  • A formal or informal complaint submitted by a nonworker or unsigned by a worker claims that working conditions pose an imminent danger

Despite setting these rules, the agency has failed to provide a satisfactory response to previous complaints about dangerous workplaces. In October 2020, workers had filed a total of 148 complaints around COVID-19, 36 of which were formal complaints. A mere five of these complaints led Iowa OSHA to conduct an on-site investigation, while the others were simply closed and dismissed.

While Iowa OSHA wound up inspecting seven other meatpacking plants, the agency only took this course of action when the media or state lawmakers encouraged it.

With the issuing of this complaint, workers in Iowa hope to make sure that OSHA does its job in keeping workers consistently safe, whether from COVID-19 or other potential dangers.