Ready or Not, OSHA Focuses in on Healthcare

OSHA is turning up the heat on inpatient and residential healthcare facilities. The healthcare industry has long been a favored target for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) due to the large number of employees and numerous occupational safety and health issues associated with the industry. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2013, 44 percent of reported injuries within the healthcare industry were attributed to overexertion-related incidents. To address these statistics, on June 25, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) created a new compliance document aimed specifically at inpatient health care facilities and nursing homes.

Specifically, Dorothy Dougherty, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, announced the details of OSHA’s new health care enforcement initiative in a memorandum to OSHA Regional Administrators and State Plans. Because of the increased focus, inpatient health care facilities and nursing homes should begin preparations for an OSHA inspection immediately. Inspections will begin shortly and strategic planning will be critical to successfully navigate any OSHA inspection.

This memorandum is entitled Inspection Guidance for Inpatient Healthcare Settings (Guidance). OSHA’s recent policy follows its April 2, 2015, announcement that it will continue its National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Nursing and Residential Care Facilities indefinitely. These two enforcement memoranda signal a clear move by the Agency to extend the NEP—which was limited to nursing and residential care facilities—to all inpatient healthcare settings, and to impose additional compliance burdens on healthcare employers without going through regulatory process.

It is critical to note that OSHA includes a broad range of inpatient facilities on the list of potential targets. Included among the facilities that OSHA designates as “hospitals” and “nursing homes” are a wide variety of workplaces, including among others:

(i)         Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities
(ii)        Skilled nursing facilities
(ii)        Residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities
(iv)       Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals
(v)        Convalescent homes or convalescent hospitals
(vi)       Hospices
(vii)      Residential drug addiction rehabilitation facilities

If you are a health care or nursing care facility that provides residential or inpatient services—particularly if your facility has a high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses, you are at risk.

OSHA has identified five areas that will be specifically targeted during all inpatient healthcare inspections, programmed or unprogrammed:

(1)        Ergonomic issues related to patient handling
(2)        Bloodborne pathogens and other infectious materials
(3)        Exposure to tuberculosis (and other contagious diseases)
(4)        Workplace violence
(5)        Slips, trips, and falls

Inpatient healthcare employers are faced with countless regulatory requirements that can be confusing to understand and difficult to satisfy. Moreover, an OSHA investigation can be a daunting experience, particularly when it involves numerous issues in multiple parts of a facility. To limit liability exposure, it is advisable for a healthcare employer to conduct an internal audit in the five areas identified by OSHA’s enforcement memoranda to determine whether any liability exposure exists. Before conducting such an audit, the employer should consult with outside counsel to ensure that the audit, and its subsequent reports, may be privileged and protected from disclosure to OSHA.

How Can We Help?

Woods Rogers, in conjunction with Healthcare Compliance Resources, can assist you in determining your current compliance status by conducting a privileged and protected Regulatory Compliance Assessment.

Click here for a more detailed article about the forthcoming OSHA inspections and ways in which we can be contacted to assist you in achieving OSHA compliance.

Brought to you by

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Steve Burt, Healthcare Compliance Resources

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Dudley F. Woody, Principal, Woods Rogers PLC