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Assisted living facility fined for not correcting lifting hazards

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Washington state regulators have cited and fined an assisted living facility $102,060 for violations including a failure to correct excessive and repetitive lifting hazards.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries fined Columbia Heights by Bonaventure Retirement and Assisted Living facility in Wenatchee, Washington after determining the facility failed to correct violations cited in May of this year, according to a news release issued by the agency on Monday.

The most recent inspection found that Columbia Heights failed to protect their employees from having to manually lift patients, exposing them to possible serious and disabling back, shoulder or neck injuries, as required in a previous inspection, which led to a $67,200 penalty for failing to abate a serious violation. Records show there have been 15 sprain and strain injuries at this facility in recent years, according to the department.

Columbia Heights was also cited for not developing a formal accident prevention program tailored to the hazards of the workplace, a violation also cited during the May inspection, according to the agency. This failing to abate a serious violation citation carries a $33,600 fine.

The employer was also cited for two repeat general violations, each with a penalty of $280, for not identifying all the hazardous chemicals present in the workplace and ensuring that copies of the safety data sheet for each chemical was available onsite. Additionally, Columbia Heights was cited for failing to certify that the safety and health requirements had been corrected — a violation carrying a $700 penalty.

The department appears to be applying nursing home standards to Columbia Heights, according to a statement released by the facility.

“We are not a licensed nursing home and the nursing home standards simply don’t apply to us,” Tony Kreitzberg, general counsel for Columbia Heights, said in a statement. “Our training, policies and equipment are appropriate for an assisted living community under guidelines established by the Washington State Department of Health. Columbia Heights has been operating for over 10 years and has never before been required by the department to have lifts at this senior assisted living community.”

Columbia Heights disagrees with and will appeal the citation and the high penalty because the department has no authority to issue ergonomic citations and order any employer in the state to adopt practices or equipment to prevent musculoskeletal injuries since a 2003 voter initiative repealed ergonomic regulations previously adopted by the department unless mandated by federal law, the statement continued.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the state’s workers comp supplemental pension fund to help workers and families of those who have died on the job, according to the agency.