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OSHA ramping up safety, inspection efforts for health care workplaces

Posted On: Dec. 10, 2015 12:00 AM CST

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched a website aimed at addressing ongoing safety and health challenges in the health care sector while it also plans to ramp up hospital inspections.

Employees in the health care and social assistance sector are vulnerable to workplace injuries and illnesses, particularly the threat of workplace violence, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The sector experienced the most days away from work of any private industry in 2014 and its workplace violence rate is more than three times greater than the rate for all private industries, according to the bureau.


INDUSTRY RATES

Days lost, injury rates and on-the-job violence are higher for the health care industry than most other industries.



Days away from work:

• 164,440 in 2014.

• 167,150 in 2013

• 168,360 in 2012

Workplace violence rate per 10,000 full-time workers:

• 14.4 cases in 2014

• 16.2 cases in 2013

• 15.1 cases in 2012

Musculoskeletal disorders incidence rate:

• 46.9 cases in 2014

• 50.2 cases in 2013

• 55.3 cases in 2012

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


“OSHA is very focused on the health care industry in a lot of aspects, but particularly in relation to workplace violence,” said Nickole Winnett, a Reston, Virginia-based shareholder at law firm Jackson Lewis P.C. “They think the industry can definitely do more than what they're doing.”

OSHA has directed field offices receiving notifications of a severe hospital injury to expand their inspections to other safety and health issues, and will do more hospital inspections in response to these reports, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor of occupational safety and health, said last week during a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health in Washington.

The agency last week launched a Worker Safety in Hospitals website designed to provide resources for health care employers to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence program as well as tools to assess and address musculoskeletal disorders.

One of the best elements of the website is its detailed road map, which provides information on how health care facilities can prepare for specific hazards such as active shooter situations, Ms. Winnett said.

It also features successful anti-violence strategies implemented by employers such as St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where associates wear badges with alarms that alert the security office if they feel threatened. This technology addresses OSHA's emphasis on establishing systems to allow employees to notify others if they feel their safety is at risk, Ms. Winnett said.

St. Cloud Hospital, a 489-bed acute care facility in St. Cloud, Minnesota, that is part of the CentraCare Health System, also is profiled in the road map.

The hospital had three separate incidents in 2010 in which aggressive patients violently acted out. While no staff members were hurt, one patient caused serious damage by throwing a computer at the nursing desk, said Joy Plamann, medicine care center director and chair of the organization's aggressive incident prevention committee.

“I was concerned about the emotional and psychological impact on staff,” Ms. Plamann said.

A committee established in the wake of the incidents prioritized opportunities to minimize the risk of violence and improve communication, which Ms. Plamann said led to devising a symbol system to identify and track high-risk patients.

Reporting of violent incidents at the hospital has increased as employees have become more comfortable with the system, but the severity of the incidents has declined as workers received training to help de-escalate such situations, she said.

De-escalation is critical to minimizing the risk of patient agitation, said Tony Venezia, director of security and transportation for Tampa General Hospital, a 1,011-bed level 1 trauma center also featured on the new website.

“The dynamics change for the patient when we bring clinical staff in versus security staff,” he said. “By bringing in clinical staff, they're not as alarmed by the situation.”