The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently intensified its scrutiny of the health care and nursing care industries. On June 25, 2015, the agency announced a new enforcement initiative targeting inpatient health care and nursing care facilities. But this increased scrutiny of the health care and nursing care industries does not end there—OSHA is spreading its enforcement reach to other types of health care entities.
Recently, OSHA cited LifeFleet LLC, an Ohio medical patient transportation company, for training shortfalls and bloodborne pathogen violations. OSHA alleged multiple violations, including several costly willful violations, and is seeking fines totaling nearly $236,000—a notably large amount. Typically, the fines associated with OSHA citations are very low, unless they are associated with fatalities. There were no fatalities in this case.
In discussing the magnitude of the fines against LifeFleet, OSHA’s Cleveland Area Office Director Howard Eberts said, “Failing to protect workers from pathogens that can cause life-threatening diseases is unacceptable. As a medical service provider, LifeFleet should be setting the standard in employee protection – not ignoring it.”
What does this mean to health care and nursing care employers? OSHA is targeting all health care and nursing care facilities, not just inpatient facilities. The agency is sending a clear message to the health care and nursing care industries in issuing citations carrying unusually heavy fines.
How to Prepare
Here are a few action steps that employers can take right now to prepare for an OSHA inspection:
- Conduct an internal OSHA compliance audit with the assistance of knowledgeable counsel to maximize the basis for the assertion of attorney client privilege as to the audit as in furtherance of providing legal counsel on OSHA compliance. (Remember, if an internal audit is conducted without the aid of outside counsel, the audit results can be subpoenaed by OSHA and used as a guide to potential violations at the facility.) The cost of defending OSHA citations can easily be hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost of conducting an internal audit and addressing hazards before an OSHA inspection is trivial by comparison.
- Review all health and safety training programs. Ensure that all employees have been thoroughly trained—and have received refresher training, when appropriate—on all aspects of the facility’s health and safety policies and that they can demonstrate that they understood the training. It is advisable to conduct a quiz after each training session in order for employees to demonstrate their comprehension of the training and to keep quiz results and training attendee lists on file.
- Consult with an OSHA attorney regarding preparations for an OSHA inspection. Most health care and nursing care employers have never experienced an OSHA inspection (LifeFleet, for example, had never been inspected before) and may not be aware of strategies that can be used to minimize work disruption during an inspection and reduce the likelihood of receiving an unwarranted citation.