OSHA issues guidance for health care professionals

OSHA turned its focus to the health care industry in June with the release of a memo that announced a new enforcement initiative. Health care professionals in Pennsylvania might need to know that it directs federal regional branches and state plans to review how many work-related illnesses and injuries occur at their inpatient facilities. It also calls for inspections at facilities with high illness and injury rates.

A broad range of inpatient facilities are encompassed in the OSHA guidelines. Those covered, for example, include substance abuse and psychiatric hospitals, assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities and hospices. Some outpatient facilities are also subject to the guidelines.

According to the guidance memo, OSHA inspectors must pay close attention to five key hazards, including bloodborne pathogens, slips and falls, musculoskeletal disorders associated with handling patients or residents, tuberculosis and workplace violence. The inspectors have the flexibility to expand the reach of their inspections when other hazards arise, such as exposure to dangerous chemicals and multi-drug resistant organisms.

Since no regulations exist for several of the above hazards, OSHA inspectors have the flexibility to rely on the general duty clause. This means that the agency can cite an employer if the inspectors find that the work and work environment are not safe for the employees. It can also issue citations if its regulations are insufficient to ensure employee safety.

To avoid receiving a citation, employers can improve their health and safety programs. They could conduct internal compliance audits with outside help from attorneys to protect the reports from OSHA review. Then, they can use these reports to help them determine potential hazard violations and to develop resolutions.

When employees are injured in an on-the-job accident, they might be eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits. They may wish to obtain the assistance of an attorney with the preparation and filing of the required claims.

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