Treatment center slapped with $207k proposed fine as OSHA announcements grow rarer

By: August 16th, 2017 Email This Post Print This Post

Facility accused of failing to address workplace violence risks it had promised to remedy

A psychiatric treatment center in Massachusetts faces more than $207,000 in proposed penalties after OSHA accused the facility of failing to adequately protect employees from workplace violence, despite having promised specifically to do so.

Notice of the proposed action against Lowell Treatment Center, which is operated by UHS of Westwood Pembroke Inc., comes as OSHA has grown significantly quieter about its enforcement activity under President Donald Trump’s administration than it had been under former President Barack Obama. There have been fewer enforcement-related OSHA press releases issued in the seven months since Trump took office than there were in just the final month of 2016.

It remains unclear how OSHA decides which enforcement actions warrant a press release. An agency spokesperson was not immediately able Wednesday to answer questions about this threshold. But we know that this case entails allegations that the facility failed to keep specific promises it made last year in a formal settlement agreement stemming from an unfavorable 2015 evaluation by federal inspectors.

“Our inspectors found that employees throughout the Lowell Treatment Center continued to be exposed to incidents of workplace violence that could have been greatly reduced had the employer fully implemented the settlement agreement,” OSHA’s Boston-based regional administrator Galen Blanton said last week in a written statement.

The management company, which operates 350 facilities throughout the United States and United Kingdom, notified OSHA that it intends to contest the findings, according to the press release.

Micah Smith, an OSHA attorney with Conn Maciel Carey in Washington, D.C., said during a webinar Tuesday that the Obama administration had engaged in “regulation by shaming.” And any Republican in the White House would be expected to back off of Obama-era levels of enforcement, he said.

“We’re expecting to see this change, and that press-heavy enforcement model to be rolled back,” Smith said. “We haven’t seen any official actions, but in the early days of the administration, most agencies across the government have been encouraged or required to reduce their press activity.”

Smith said there were two or three OSHA enforcement press releases in June and July this year, compared to 25-40 for each of the same months last year. Even so, it’s important to note that OSHA’s priorities are just as unsettled as its staffing.

“As with all things, without the permanent OSHA team in place, we’re still reading the tea leaves a little bit,” Smith said.

The press release in this case comes two months after OSHA endured criticism for backing off an allegation that Bergen Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Paramus, New Jersey, had an inadequate workplace violence prevention plan. Jordan Barab, a former OSHA official under Obama, drafted a lengthy blog post critical of the move, and he clashed on Twitter with Eric Conn, another attorney with Conn Maciel Carey, who was hired to represent BRMC’s defense against the citation.

Barab, who has also been critical of the marked decrease in the issuance of OSHA enforcement press releases, hasn’t blogged since OSHA issued its press release last week.

Update (8/23/17): Barab blogged yesterday about this case. “Although I am frequently critical of OSHA under the Trump administration,” he wrote, “never let it be said that I have failed to praise the agency when they do something good.”

 

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