The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued seven notices of unsafe or unhealthful working conditions found at the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center, following a safety inspection conducted in July as part of OSHA’s Federal Agency Targeting Inspection Program. OSHA’s announcement of the citations highlights the need for all health care and other employers to manage safety compliance. The citations highlight the high enforcement and penalty risks that public and private health care providers risk by failing to comply with OSHA’s safety, recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
Health Industry Employers High Priority OSHA Enforcement Target
Under these OSHA requirements, all employers, including federal and private health industry employers, are responsible for knowing what hazards exist in their facilities and taking appropriate precautions by following OSHA standards so workers are not exposed to such hazards. Physician practices, hospitals and other health care providers in both the public and private sectors generally are subject to these federal requirements, as well as various state and federal environmental and patient safety requirements. Enforcement of compliance in the health care industry is a high priority for OSHA because of the high rates of occupational accident and injury among health industry workers. Federal agencies generally must comply with the same safety standards as private-sector employers.
OSHA prioritizes monitoring and enforcing occupational safety standards throughout the health care industry because of the high incidence of occupational accidents and illnesses among health care workers. According to OSHA, more workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other. This industry has one of the highest rates of work related injuries and illnesses and it continues to rise. In 2020, the healthcare and social assistance industry reported a 40% increase in injury and illness cases which continues to be higher than any other private industry sector – 806,200 cases (2020 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, BLS). Over half of these cases (447,890) resulted in at least one day away from work. The total incidence rate for this sector was 5.5 cases per 100 FTE workers in 2020, compared to 3.8 per 100 FTE workers in 2019. Nursing assistants were amongst the occupations with the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders of all occupations in 2020, with 15,360 cases. Musculoskeletal disorders made up 52% of all days away from work cases for nursing assistants. See here. In addition to the medical staff, large healthcare facilities employ a wide variety of trades that have health and safety hazards associated with them. These include mechanical maintenance, medical equipment maintenance, housekeeping, food service, building and grounds maintenance, laundry, and administrative staff. Because of these risks, OSHA has extensive occupational health and safety requirements for physician practices, hospitals, nursing homes, home health and other health industry employers and targeted audit and enforcement programs to enforce and promote compliance with these requirements. See here.
Violations are common and frequently result in citations, particularly in certain key areas. The most frequently cited areas affecting health industry employers include violations of the following standards:
- Section 1910.132, General requirements.
- Section1910.133, Eye and face protection.
- Section 1910.134, Respiratory protection.
- Section 1910 Subpart Z – Toxic and Hazardous Substances
- Section 1910.1030, Bloodborne pathogens.
- Section 1910.1047, Ethylene oxide.
- Section 1910.1048, Formaldehyde.
- Section 1910.1096, Ionizing radiation.
- Section 1910.1200, Hazard Communication.
- Section 1910.1450, Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories.
Battle Creek VA OSHA Safety Violations
In the case of the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center, OSHA says an inspection uncovered several repeat safety violations, as well as certain other serious safety violations. OSHA reports that three repeat safety violations involved failing to evaluate the workplace to identify if permit-required confined spaces were present and label such spaces with danger signs; failing to adequately guard automated laundry equipment to prevent employees from entering the work area, and failing to fully guard the belt and pulley of an air compressor. To issue notices for repeat violations, OSHA must have issued at least one other notice for the same violation at one of the agency’s establishments within the same standard industrial classification code, commonly known as the SIC code. OSHA previously has cited U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in Danville and North Chicago, Illinois, and Minneapolis, Minnesota for the same safety and health violations.
The serious safety violations found included three serious safety violations for unguarded floor openings in the general repair shop; failing to inspect powered industrial trucks prior to placing them in service, and failing to remove trucks from service in need of repair. Additionally, OSHA found a circuit breaker panel was not mounted correctly. OSHA issues a serious notice when it finds a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Beyond the repeat and serious violations, OSHA reports it also found one other-than-serious violation for failing to close unused openings on electrical cabinets and junction boxes. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
While the medical center and other federal agencies are required to comply with the same OSHA rules as private sector employers, the VA and other federal agencies don’t face the same liabilities when cited. OSHA cannot propose monetary penalties against another federal agency for failure to comply with OSHA standards.
Since private sector employers that don’t enjoy the VA’s immunity liability run much greater risks for failing to maintain workplace safety, including significant civil and in the case of a workplace death, potentially even criminal penalties, private sector hospitals and other organizations should exercise special care to ensure appropriate safety in their workplaces.
For More Information Or Assistance
If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has nearly 35 years of experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.
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Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:
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