OSHA Extends a Helping (Electronic) Hand to Health Care Facilities

10 February 2014 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

What U.S. industry recorded nearly 250,000 work-related injuries and illnesses in 2012, costing employers approximately $2 billion in expenses? If you guessed construction or manufacturing, guess again. According to the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), statistics show that the likelihood of injury or illness resulting in days away from work is higher in hospitals than in construction and manufacturing.

The health care setting involves many unique safety hazards, which differ from those in the generic workplace. For example, hospital employees are susceptible to:

  • Bloodborne and other communicable illnesses
  • Exposure to potentially hazardous chemical, radiologic, and pharmacologic agents
  • An increased likelihood of violence, for reasons including patients with conditions causing impaired mental status and patients and family members dealing with high-stress, emotionally charged situations

In apparent response to these statistics and hazards, on January 15, 2014, OSHA extended a helping hand to health care facility employers, launching its online compliance site “Worker Safety in Hospitals: Caring for our Caregivers.”  The website is extensive, containing data on illness and injuries, guidelines, checklists, and examples of best practices. Of particular note, OSHA provides guidance on how to reconcile OSHA compliance with the Joint Commission (JCAHO) standards applicable to hospitals. While the site addresses numerous issues, such as communicable disease, violence, and handling hazardous materials, it particularly focuses on issues related to safe patient handling, as injuries related to lifting and transferring patients are among the most common occupational hazards in hospitals.

However, OSHA’s apparent olive branch may not be totally magnanimous and may give hospital employers cause to beware – the amount of resources devoted to the website demonstrates OSHA’s commitment to addressing injuries and illnesses in the hospital industry, and a renewed focus and attention to devoted to healthcare employers. Nonetheless, this website provides a useful tool to help employers in the health care industry minimize workplace injuries and comply with OSHA requirements. Even those employers in non-health care fields would be well served to review the website’s portions dealing with issues that cut across many fields, such as workplace violence and lifting injuries (ergonomic-related).

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