BOSTON, MA – A federal administrative law judge has determined that UHS of Delaware Inc. and UHS of Fuller Inc. exposed their employees at Fuller Hospital in Attleboro to workplace violence without adequate protections in 2019, particularly at times when hospital staffing was low. Fuller Hospital is a 102-bed behavioral health facility that provides acute inpatient hospitalization for adolescents and adults.
UHS of Delaware Inc. manages healthcare operations at facilities owned by its parent, Universal Health Services, which is one of the nation’s largest behavioral healthcare service providers and owns at least 330 behavioral health facilities nationwide.
The ruling follows an inspection by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, prompted by employee complaints, which found the hospital’s lack of safeguards subjected staff to workplace violence. Incidents included Fuller workers being kicked, punched, slapped, bitten and having their hair ripped out. Certain staff members also suffered repeated concussions. Over 500 incidents of aggression occurred at Fuller Hospital during a seven-month period.
OSHA cited UHS-DE and UHS-Fuller for exposing employees to workplace violence hazards in December 2019. The companies contested the citation before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. In July and August 2022, the Boston Regional Solicitor’s Office tried the case over two weeks. Employees testified about injuries they suffered, their unsafe working conditions, and inadequate training and staffing.
On Jan. 20, 2023, Review Commission Administrative Law Judge Carol A. Baumerich affirmed OSHA’s serious citation and found that the companies operated Fuller Hospital as a single employer. The judge also determined OSHA’s proposed abatement measures were feasible and that they would materially reduce the hazard of workplace violence.
These abatement measures included:
Ensuring that units are adequately staffed to handle behavioral health emergencies.
Providing employees with personal panic alarms.
Adequately training new employees.
Conducting post-incident debriefings and investigations.
Providing trained security personnel on all three shifts.
Judge Baumerich also sanctioned both companies for destroying surveillance videos showing workplace violence and sanctioned UHS-DE for failing to comply with its discovery obligations and ordered the companies to pay the department $20,175 in attorneys’ fees.
The companies have appealed the trial decision to the full Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
“Like any other employer, industry leaders like UHS of Delaware Inc. must comply with the law. When employers do not adequately protect their workers from workplace violence, the U.S. Department of Labor will use all legal tools at our disposal to make them do so,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher in Boston. “When companies attempt to avoid liability by destroying evidence or keeping it from the department – as they did in this case – we will hold them accountable.”
“Each year, about two million American workers fall victim to workplace violence, which continues to be a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide. OSHA requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Employers who do not take all feasible steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in their workplace can be cited and fined,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in Boston.
In a related legal proceeding, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts previously ordered UHS-Fuller and UHS-DE to pay the department $30,515 in attorneys’ fees after they failed to comply with an OSHA-issued subpoena for the surveillance videos in this case.
OSHA’s Braintree, Massachusetts, Area Office conducted the inspection. The department’s Office of the Solicitor in Boston litigated the case for OSHA. UHS-Fuller was represented by Jackson Lewis P.C. and UHS-DE was represented through discovery by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and at trial by Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP.
Learn more about OSHA and addressing and preventing workplace violence, including Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers.
Secretary of Labor v. UHS of Fuller, Inc. (“UHS-Fuller”) and UHS of Delaware, Inc.
OSHRC Docket No. 20-0032