In late June, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) announced a major initiative that will intensify and expand the agency’s enforcement resources in the healthcare industry, with a focus on several common causes of workplace injuries in hospitals and nursing homes including workplace injuries related to patient or resident lifting, as well as workplace violence, bloodborne pathogens, tuberculosis, and slip and falls.  OSHA has cited to statistics in support of its new initiative. In Calendar Year 2013, the rate of workplace injury and illness in inpatient healthcare settings was nearly twice the rate for private industry workers, and approximately half of the reported injuries in healthcare were attributable to “overexertion-related incidents” which led to musculoskeletal disorders, or “MSDs,” from patient handling.

As part of its new focus, patient handling procedures previously issued by OSHA as guidance will now be enforced as if a regulation.  In addition, OSHA staff have been advised that all hospital and nursing home facility inspections (whether prompted by a complaint, referral, or severe injury report) are now to include review of potential hazards involving MSD-related to patient handling, bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, tuberculosis, and slips, trips and falls.  These more focused, intensive reviews will include an initial determination regarding the extent of handling hazards and the manner in which they are (or are not) addressed.  It is expected that OSHA compliance officers will evaluate the healthcare employer’s safety program management, program implementation, and employee training. OSHA has provided specific guidance to compliance/investigating officers who will be conducting these evaluations.

Once the employer’s program has been evaluated, compliance officers will make a decision as to whether the ergonomic portion of the inspection will continue.  If there are issues that are not addressed or require further attention, the employer may receive an Ergonomic Hazard Alert Letter identifying deficiencies. OSHA will follow up with any employer receiving an Ergonomic Hazard Alert Letter to determine whether the deficiencies have been addressed and may conduct follow-up inspections as necessary.

The bottom line is that now, and for the foreseeable future, healthcare employers can expect to face more frequent, more focused, and more intensive safety compliance reviews and inspections as a result of this new OSHA initiative. The proactive employer will be in the best position to successfully navigate through an OSHA visit and reduce potential liabilities.  The unprepared healthcare employer will run the risk of significant and costly citations.

Contact any of the attorneys in Labor & Employment Practice Group if you have a question about this post or need assistance with OSHA compliance.