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Public Citizen report pushes OSHA to boost efforts in healthcare industry


By Ashok Selvam
Posted: July 17, 2013 - 3:30 pm ET
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The watchdog group Public Citizen is calling for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to increase the number of workplace inspections and develop stronger standards to protect healthcare workers from injuries and violence. In a report (PDF), the group singled out home care as an area where OSHA needs to establish rules to better protect workers from musculoskeletal injuries.

The report criticized what it called insufficient congressional funding for OSHA, and says healthcare workers suffer more injuries than other workers in other sectors. “The degree of OSHA's failure to protect healthcare workers will continue to grow in coming years unless the agency takes aggressive action,” the report said.

The SEIU and American Nurses Association endorsed Public Citizen's report and recommendations seeking improved safety regulations.

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Healthcare workers reported a 6% rise in injuries in 2011, according to the report. The report contrasted that with the agriculture and construction industries, saying those two industries are safer than they were a decade ago. Researchers credited more inspections for improving safety in those industries. OSHA conducted 52,179 construction inspections and 19,566 manufacturing ones in 2011.

Even though those other industries employed fewer workers than healthcare, the healthcare sector saw fewer OSHA inspections in 2011, with 2,504. The report blamed budget restraints but still said improvement needed to be made.

“OSHA needs to increase inspections across-the-board, not just for healthcare facilities,” the report read “The facts in this section simply illustrate that the agency has further to go in healthcare facilities than other sectors.”

More and better OSHA rules for the healthcare industry are needed. The report said the agency has developed only nine regulations aimed at healthcare since its inception in 1970. Most of those rules oversee chemical usage, and those have been successful. But, the report said, there should be more of a focus on workplace violence and hazards and unsafe ergonomic conditions. Nursing homes are an example of where workplace violence needs to be curtailed, the report said.

Home care workers are among the sector's employees who suffer musculoskeletal injuries from moving people and heavy objects and performing forceful hand work, and OSHA needs to act in that area, the report said. It cited 10 states that have safe patient handling laws that make it safer for workers in those situations. Those laws require that workers be furnished with lifting equipment so they don't have to move patients by hand.

“In the area of safe patient handling, the states have given OSHA all it needs to conclude that solutions exist to a well-documented problem,” the report stated. “It is time for OSHA to take the next step.”

OSHA officials could not provide a comment immediately. However, the report included a response from OSHA saying it's working on outreach aimed to reduce healthcare hazards.

Follow Ashok Selvam on Twitter: @MH_aselvam


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