The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is joining forces with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations to speak with one voice on the provision of hospital-employee health and safety.
Under a three-year partnership announced last week, the oversight organizations plan to cross-train their respective staffs on the specifics of similar requirements relating to management of worker safety.
The agencies also will catalog and evaluate potentially duplicative compliance activities and clarify their requirements for hospitals through a series of collaborative publications and education programs.
For OSHA, the deal is one way to become more involved in rapidly expanding service industries such as healthcare, broadening the agency's oversight beyond its historical concentration on construction and manufacturing, said Joseph Dear, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
Some of the same issues pursued by the JCAHO-infection control, hazardous-materials, life safety requirements and performance improvement-are everyday goals of OSHA, Dear said.
For the JCAHO, the arrangement is in part an attempt to reduce or eliminate redundant preparation for hospitals undergoing inspections, said Dennis O'Leary, the JCAHO's president.
The coordination will answer criticism that commission surveyors sometimes recommend changes that hospital executives say may run afoul of OSHA guidelines, O'Leary said.
The latest version of the commission's accreditation manual for hospitals, to be released in mid-August, includes explanations and examples of workplace safety and health compliance that also satisfy OSHA requirements, he said.
However, both agencies said surveyors won't be turned into OSHA inspectors.
Such "deputizing" would greatly expand OSHA's eyes and ears in healthcare because it now acts mainly in response to specific complaints that come to its attention. But O'Leary said surveyors won't evaluate complaints or pass along information to OSHA.
OSHA's objective, he said, is not to dig up more complaints but to bring down illness and injury rates in the healthcare industry by creating incentives for voluntary compliance with measures that protect workers.
If surveyors find worker safety problems, they'll be trained to provide guidance to accredited organizations in step with what OSHA would dictate as a resolution, O'Leary said.
Dear said one of the results of the collaboration would be a reduction in the regulatory burden on hospitals.
Reduction of regulatory duplication and overlapping jurisdiction was prominent among a list of grievances against the
JCAHO compiled nearly two years ago by the American Hospital Association in an industry uprising that led to an "action plan" for commission improvement in January 1995.
Besides the OSHA initiative, the JCAHO recently announced a cooperative agreement with the Commission on Office Laboratory Accreditation, a Columbia, Md.-based organization that evaluates physician office laboratories and is expanding into accreditation of labs associated with community hospitals, multispecialty clinics and managed-care organizations. That agency's findings and decisions will be recognized and accepted by the JCAHO in its network accreditation program.