06-17-2015 | Health Law Blog

Healthcare Isn’t Healthy

By: BrownWinick

Despite healthcare being the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, healthcare workers face a wide range of hazards on the job which include needle stick injuries, back injuries, latex allergy, violence and stress. Although it is possible to prevent or reduce healthcare worker exposure to these hazards, healthcare workers continue to experience injuries and illnesses in the workplace at higher rates nearly every year. Cases of non-fatal occupational injury and illness among healthcare workers are among the highest of any industry sector. By contrast, the two most hazardous industries, agriculture and construction, are safer today than they were a decade ago, which cannot be said about the healthcare sector.

The five most often cited violations of OSHA regulations in the healthcare sector are as follows:  (1) lack of a written Exposure Control Plan; (2) lack of updates to the Exposure Control Plan to document annual consideration and the implementation of safer medical devices; (3) no use of safe medical devices and safe work practices; (4) no availability of HBV vaccination; (5) lack of employee safety training program.

Each OSHA citation can result in a fine of up to $7,000. “Willful” violations can lead to fines as high as $70,000. Failure to use safe products can lead to multiple citations for the same issue, which might include:

(1)        failure to document evaluation and use of safety product in the Exposure Control Plan;

(2)        failure to include exposed employees in the evaluation and selection of safety products; and

(3)        failure to implement safety products.

The result being that one incident can result in three citations to the tune of $21,000.

In April, the director of enforcement for OSHA sent a memorandum to its Regional Directors announcing that OSHA intends to emphasize enforcement in the healthcare industry, since it reports more work-related injuries and illnesses than any other general industry. Nursing homes and hospitals have become OSHA’s target. Employers should not take OSHA’s emphasis lightly.

So what should healthcare employers do right now to prepare for OSHA’s intensely increased scrutiny?

  • Put together an OSHA inspection checklist so you’re prepared for an inspection.
  • View the Healthcare Section of OSHA’s website, paying particular attention to the standards/enforcement tab, the new guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers and the new Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit. If you are not already in compliance with the applicable standards and guidance, begin compliance efforts immediately.
  • Work with counsel to conduct an internal compliance audit of your facilities, particularly if any facilities have a particularly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses. (Be sure to work with outside counsel in conducting such audits so that the resulting audit reports are protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. Otherwise, OSHA may be able to subpoena the audit reports and use them to identify potential health and safety issues in the workplace.)

The bottom line is that OSHA is coming. Accordingly, employers in the healthcare industry should act now to ensure that their employees are working in the safest possible conditions and that, when OSHA appears at their door, they can demonstrate their commitment to employee health and safety.  Make healthcare healthy.