Washington State Passes Workplace Violence Law

July 2, 1999
Washington State has passed a workplace violence law for health care industry employers. "Violence" under the law includes any physical assault or verbal threat of physical assault against an employee in a health care setting. Effective July 25, 1999, the law targets hospitals; home health, hospice, and home care agencies; evaluation and treatment facilities; and community mental health programs. By July 1, 2000, such employers are required to develop and implement a plan to reasonably prevent and protect employees from violence in the workplace. Additionally, by July 1, 2001, employers must provide violence prevention training to all affected employees on a regular basis.

Before developing a violence prevention plan, employers must conduct a safety assessment to identify existing or potential hazards for violence. At a minimum, employers should look back five years—or as far back as records are available—to measure the frequency and cause of violent acts in their workplaces.

Workplace violence prevention plan.
As appropriate to the workplace setting, each plan needs to address the following:

  1. The physical attributes of the health care setting;
  2. Staffing, including security staffing;
  3. Personnel policies;
  4. First aid and emergency procedures;
  5. The reporting of violent acts; and
  6. Employee education and training.

Violence prevention training.
When the law’s training provisions come into effect, new employee training would need to occur within 90 days of an employee's initial hire date, except for temporary employees. Training should cover:

  1. General safety procedures;
  2. Personal safety procedures;
  3. The violence escalation cycle;
  4. Violence-predicting factors;
  5. Obtaining patient history from a patient with violent behavior;
  6. Verbal and physical techniques to de-escalate and minimize violent behavior;
  7. Strategies to avoid physical harm;
  8. Restraining techniques;
  9. Appropriate use of medications as chemical restraints;
  10. Documenting and reporting incidents;
  11. The process whereby employees affected by a violent act may debrief;
  12. Any resources available to employees for coping with violence; and
  13. The health care setting's workplace violence prevention plan.

Recordkeeping requirements.
Beginning July 1, 2000, affected employers must keep a record of any violent act against an employee, a patient, or a visitor occurring at the setting. A number of details about the incidents must be recorded, including time, date, and specific location; employee identification information if the victim was an employee; whether the aggressor and the victim were patients, visitors, or employees; a specific description of the violent act and any weapons used; any witnesses; and a description of the employer’s response.

The Washington law appears not only to go beyond the requirement imposed by OSHA’s general duty clause for employers to provide a safe workplace but also to be significantly more detailed than those few other states that have enacted workplace violence laws.

California’s law, for example, is intended to provide optional remedies that supplement rather than replace existing remedies against workplace violence. It doesn’t obligate an employer to seek those optional remedies. A California employer, whose employee has suffered unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence that either has been or might be carried out at the workplace, may seek a temporary restraining order on behalf of the employee prohibiting further unlawful violence or threats of violence.

Florida requires that every employer provide a safe and healthful workplace for its employees.

Minnesota’s law applies only to public employment, requiring state agencies to adopt a goal of zero tolerance of violence. Each agency is encouraged to develop a plan that describes how the agency will:

  1. Seek to eliminate any potential for violence in and around the agency workplace; and
  2. Seek to eliminate any potential for violence by affecting the attitudes and behavior of people that the agency serves or regulates.

Cite: 1999 WA SB 5312, May 17, 1999.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.