Over the years, the US Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OSHA”) has focused attention on healthcare workers and the safety issues they face in a variety of ways. In 1999 OSHA proposed implementation of an “ergonomics standard,” intended to reduce musculoskeletal injuries for a host of different occupations, including healthcare workers. That proposed program was rejected and never implemented.
On January 15, 2014, with the endorsement of the Lucian Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation, OSHA released a comprehensive package of tools for hospitals to use in assessing and improving the safety of their workforce, with a particular focus on musculoskeletal injuries. Those tools can be found at the following website: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hospitals/.
The three primary subject areas of those tools are: Understanding the Problem; Safety & Health Management Systems; and Safe Patient Handling. The injuries and illnesses that are the focus of this entire package of tools are musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses. Though not specifically referred to as an “ergonomics standard,” this set of tools references both safe patient handling techniques and safe patient handling equipment- both hallmarks of the earlier ergonomics program.
While this package of tools does not in and of itself create a new obligation for healthcare employers, for the last three or four years OSHA has issued a series of compliance directives, recommendations, and standard interpretations that are used in combination with the “General Duty Clause” to issue citations to employers who fail to implement the programs OSHA recommends. The first time this was done with respect to the healthcare industry was September, 2011, when OSHA issued an enforcement directive with respect to workplace violence directed against healthcare workers. Since that time, a number of healthcare facilities have been cited for acts of workplace violence. Healthcare employers can expect that the failure to implement these tools will likely face citation as well.