OSHA Turns Attention to Healthcare Safety

Posted July 7, 2015 at 4:46 pm

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced that it will focus its attention on potential healthcare workplace hazards that lack formal regulation. Hospitals and nursing homes will be expected to implement ergonomic, or industry-recognized safeguards for safe patient handling, according to a medical news report. Inspections will be aimed at preventing the following hazards: musculoskeletal disorders caused by patient handling, dangers from bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, tuberculosis, and slips, trips and falls, according to a regulator’s staff memo.

While OSHA’s efforts to establish a formal ergonomics rule has been hampered by past politics, the agency has run educational campaigns and provided resource materials to an industry with one of the worst rates of overexertion injuries. Hospital rates run twice the national average for all industries, with 75 injuries for every 10,000 full-time employees. Nursing homes and residential facilities are three times as high, with 107 injuries for every 10,000 employees.

The agency is expected to cite violations under the general duty clause of the OSHA act to enforce ergonomic standards. Penalties are likely to range from $7,000 to as high as $70,000 (if the agency can prove deliberate oversight), according to a statement released by an OSHA official. The American Nurses Association supports OSHA’s regulatory attention and considers it a step in the right direction. Currently, 11 states regulate patient handling, but few eliminate unassisted patient handling. Most policies are for securing equipment, training staff and collecting injury data.

“It's time to start obtaining your own professional ergonomist and engaging in your own evaluations and determining exactly what is required,” says Howard Mavity, chair of the workplace safety and catastrophe management practice group at Fisher & Phillips, a law firm in Atlanta. “ … OSHA remains absolutely determined to get ergonomic enforcement rolling,” but strict enforcement initially is unlikely, because OSHA lacks the manpower.

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