The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration has issued new guidance and rules for inpatient healthcare settings including hospitals, nursing homes and residential areas.
Inpatient healthcare workers have some of the highest rates of injury and illness among all workers, a title that is often attributed most heavily to the construction industry. U.S. injury rates are actually double the amount of any other private industry.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and OSHA’s own inspections have found that healthcare workers risk constant exposure to workplace violence, tuberculosis, slips trips and falls, as well as Musculoskeletal Disorders.
Despite these high numbers, there is no federal law regulating such behavior. Only seven states require employers to run some form of workplace violence prevention programs, while 26 states have laws for penalties against assaults on nurses.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of a physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other life threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.”
According to OSHA statistics, there were only 21 inspection visits to hospice and rehabilitation centers between 2010 and 2015. Of these visits, 18 resulted in violations, with over $19,000 worth of fines cited. Forty-five percent of these visits were caused by complaints, while the other 45 percent came from planned routines and 10 percent from referrals.
Inspectors are beginning to change what they are looking for in terms of visits and employee safety. Inspections must include a detailed review of potential employee exposure to safety hazards such as chemicals and airborne disease, as well as the handling of hazardous materials.
It is also expected that employee medical records will be taken into account, as well as prior training, experience and overall supervision in the health center. OSHA’s main priority now is ensuring if healthcare facilities have plans in place to protect their workers, as well as their effectiveness.
Facilities are also being expected to track and learn from “near misses” – events that could have resulted in disaster, but instead present themselves as learning experiences for both employers and workers.
Keep the following tips from the New Hampshire Business Review in mind when developing your new healthcare safety plan:
- Be sure employees are told how to properly lift and move patients, as ergonomics is an important part of the industry. Many injuries that are not caused by violence, are instead caused my improper lifting techniques.
- Confirm that employees are aware of hazards associated with chemicals, drugs, disinfectants and other materials that they may interact with on a daily basis.
- Focus on minimizing the risk for the spread of infectious diseases in your facility.
- Review and update any safety plan and related information. Be sure to look at areas of the plan that have to do with workplace violence, and ensure proper protocols are in place.
Finally, make sure your employees are aware of how to contact OSHA, or a supervisor if their safety or that of their fellow workers is at risk. Understanding access to resources is a vital part of the healthcare field.