New OSHA Focus on Healthcare Industry

June 30, 2015 by Jason C. Taylor, Partner

Periodically, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) will issue updated guidance to it investigators to focus on what it considers key employee risks. On June 25, 2015, OSHA issued a memorandum, located at setting out particular hazards to be addressed in the healthcare industry. The memorandum appears to be more directed at hospitals and nursing and residential health care facilities and applies to both programmed (scheduled) and non-programmed (surprise) inspections. The goal of the new guidance is to address hazards in the form of  (1) musculo-skeletal disorders from patient/resident handling; (2) workplace violence; (3) blood borne pathogens; (4) tuberculosis; and (5) slips, trips and falls.

As with any workplace, it may not be possible to completely eliminate any particular hazard. OSHA noted in its press release that hospitals in the U.S. reported more than 58,000 injuries in 2013. In the current litigious atmosphere, it seems unlikely that the majority of those injuries were the result of intentional safety violations or poor practices. Accidents will happen. Additionally, keeping a workplace safe is a joint effort between employers and employees. Employers need to have the proper documented policies, proper equipment and materials, and proper supervision. Employees need to have the proper knowledge and comply with the policies set out by the employers.

With OSHA’s new initiative, it is imperative for healthcare facilities to review the policies they have as to workplace risks and safety, as well as how employees are educated about those policies. Given the focus of the memorandum, at the very least be sure to check the policies related to hazards specifically identified above. Further, employers should ensure they have the required or recommend equipment and materials in place to eliminate or minimize hazards. Last, but not least, documentation of proper education of employees, and discipline of employees (and supervisors if appropriate) when policies are violated, is key to demonstrate that the rules are worth more than the paper on which they are written.

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   Jason C. Taylor
(850) 222-8121