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Wal-Mart penalized for vaccine violation

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An administrative law judge of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has reclassified a workplace safety violation against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but affirmed a repeat violation and assessed a $25,000 penalty for failing to ensure its employees exposed to bloodborne pathogens were properly vaccinated.

Wal-Mart Stores East operates a large warehouse facility in Alachua, Florida, where it receives merchandise that is uploaded, processed and shipped to company stores by employees, according to a decision released Tuesday. In lieu of employing medical personnel on the premises, Wal-Mart organized a volunteer response team, known as the Serious Injury Response Team, to provide first aid to injured employees. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer provided training in first aid, CPR, defibrillator usage and bloodborne pathogen safety to these volunteers.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected Wal-Mart’s facility from Sept. 24, 2015, to Jan. 7, 2016, and issued a citation and notice of penalty on Feb. 1, 2016, alleging one serious and one repeat violation of the agency’s bloodborne pathogen standard, according to the decision. The citation accused the company of failing to provide employees with the hepatitis B vaccine and vaccination series per recommendations of the U.S. Public Health Service and proposed a $5,000 penalty. The agency also alleged a repeat violation for failing to make the hepatitis B vaccination available to all employees who have occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens within 10 working days of the initial assignment and proposed a $25,000 fine.

Wal-Mart contested the citation and penalties and the administrative law judge reclassified the first citation item as other-than-serious, lowering the penalty to $1,000, while reaffirming the repeat violation and assessing the $25,000 penalty.

Four volunteers experienced occupational exposure to hepatitis B for more than a year without the protection of the third dose of the vaccine, but the gravity of the violation was low under the first citation item, according to the judge.

“They were not afforded the complete protection of the HBV vaccination series, but the risk of contracting HBV from an exposure incident after receiving the second dose is minimal,” the judge said in the decision.

But in reaffirming the repeat violation, the judge also noted that eight volunteers did not have the initial dose of the vaccination series made available to them within 10 days of their initial assignments after completing the required training.

“They had no immunogenicity against HBV,” the judge stated. “The gravity of the violation is high.”

The company disagrees with the decision and believes the measures it has in place adequately protects its associates and complies with the law, a company spokesperson said via email.

"We take these issues seriously and are considering our options to appeal,' the spokesperson said.  

The commission has adopted the administrative law judge’s decision as a final order as of May 30 and the department now has 60 days to ask for appellate review.