Archive for: OSHA – Citations & Fines

OSHA buries worker fatalities list

By: August 25th, 2017 Email This Post Print This Post

What had been featured prominently on the agency’s homepage is now shorter and harder to find

Earlier this week, if you had navigated to OSHA.gov in search of information about the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) agency committed to improving the safety of American workers, you would have been greeted by a prominent ticker listing recent workplace fatalities. Each entry had a date, state, name, and brief explanation of how the worker died.

That item was removed Friday from the OSHA website, however, in an effort to make the public data more “accurate and useful,” Politico reported, citing a DOL spokesperson.

“The previous listings included fatal incidents that were outside federal OSHA jurisdiction, not work-related, or the employer was not cited for a violation related to the incident,” Mandy Kraft said in a release. “We are continuing to review all of the data to ensure it is accurate and useful to our stakeholders.”

Critics were quick to blast the change. Jordan Barab, a former OSHA official under the Obama administration, called it a “brazen attempt to hide from the American public the extent of workplace fatalities in this country.”

In place of the workplace fatalities ticker, the updated OSHA site now lists information on training, compliance assistance, and cooperative and recognition programs. Then there’s an introduction to a new ticker praising specific companies by name: “Below are just a few examples of our cooperative programs that work with and recognize employers who create safe workplaces,” it says.

“This list will soon get pretty stale,” Barab wrote. “There are a lot more workers killed on the job every month than new VPP, SHARP or Alliance participants in an entire year.”

Representatives with DOL and OSHA did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.

Update (8/28/17): An OSHA spokesperson responded in an email Friday with the same comments reported by Politico. “Previous entries [in OSHA’s fatalities data set] remain available in the original format on OSHA’s data and statistics page,” the spokesperson noted. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had asked OSHA to revise its fatalities-reporting practices.

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.”

Workplace violence citation settled, but debate rages on

By: June 19th, 2017 Email This Post Print This Post

One of the largest public hospitals in the country persuaded OSHA to back off of a citation it had issued regarding the hospital’s workplace violence prevention program, but debate over the program’s adequacy rages on.

Bergen Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Paramus, N.J., pushed back against criticism from a former OSHA official who described the resolution of BRMC’s case as a “cave-in” by the Labor Department, as I mentioned last week. Since then, the former official has responded to the pushback—and discovered that the hospital’s attorney is readily willing to spar about it on Twitter.

Jordan Barab, who served as deputy assistant OSHA secretary during the Obama administration, responded in a blog Friday to BRMC’s claim that he must think “that even a single instance of workplace violence” means a facility’s prevention program is inadequate.

Not true,” Barab wrote, “and BRMC unfortunately had far more than a single case of workplace violence. In fact, the union reports that so far this year, 62 incidents have been reported to a workplace violence committee.”

Barab said he stands by his contention that the hospital, despite fending off the OSHA citation, has serious workplace violence problems. He mentioned the BRMC dispute Thursday evening in a tweet: “They hate me. They really hate me.”

That prompted a response Friday morning from Eric J. Conn, an attorney BRMC hired in 2015 to contest the OSHA citation. “Just want honesty,” Conn wrote. “Hospital PROVED it didn’t violate the law, yet Obama-era OSHA reps who weren’t there to see the proof still slander them.”

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Hospital calls criticism from former OSHA official ‘ill-informed commentary’

By: June 14th, 2017 Email This Post Print This Post

I came across an interesting (and lengthy) post last week on Jordan Barab’s “Confined Space” blog about a hospital that successfully defended itself against an OSHA citation. Barab, a former OSHA official himself, had some harsh words for Bergen Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Paramus, N.J., going so far as to accuse BRMC of trying to revise history.

“[T]he hospital’s contention that its workplace violence prevention program ‘has once again been found to be compliant’ is false,” Barab wrote. He pointed to a written warning OSHA sent BRMC in 2014, followed by a citation in 2015, as evidence that the hospital’s program had been deemed inadequate under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause.

Since the blog post accused BRMC of misrepresenting the facts, I reached out to hospital spokeswoman Donnalee Corrieri for her response. She noted that Barab had left OSHA before a key stage in the discovery process, so his opinions appear to be based on information as alleged in 2015, rather than the full picture as uncovered throughout months of litigation.

“After considering all of the evidence, which OSHA did not have the benefit of when it [made] its initial allegation, OSHA obviously concluded that the initial citation was misplaced, and agreed to withdraw the citation related to workplace violence in its entirety,” Corrieri told me in an email.

“Mr. Barab’s ill-informed commentary seems to stem from his view that even a single instance of workplace violence means an employer’s [workplace violence prevention program] is somehow insufficient,” Corrieri added. “However, OSHA’s [workplace violence] Guidelines for healthcare acknowledge that ‘not every incident can be prevented.’ The reality is, the Medical Center consistently experiences fewer incidents of violence than its peer medical systems in New Jersey and nationally.”

For more on this, read my article in this week’s free weekly Hospital Safety Insider e-newsletter.

When does workplace violence violate OSHA’s General Duty Clause?

By: May 5th, 2017 Email This Post Print This Post

It remains unclear whether the feds will follow California’s lead in implementing an occupational health and safety standard on workplace violence prevention in healthcare settings, despite a largely positive response from those who commented on OSHA’s recent request for input on the idea.

The federal standard could specify which steps employers must take to protect healthcare workers and impose fines for noncompliance. Even without the nationwide standard, however, it’s already possible for OSHA to penalize healthcare employers anywhere in the country for failing to prevent violence against doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

That possibility comes, of course, from the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause, which requires that an employer keep its workplaces “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to [its] employees.” But what exactly does it take to support an allegation that an employer whose workers have been victimized by violence should be held accountable, to some degree?

Clarence Webster III, JD, with the firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, addressed that question this week in a blog post, citing a directive that took effect in January. The directive guides OSHA officials on when and how to issue citations in response to workplace violence, Webster explained.

“In determining whether to initiate an inspection, the Directive sets forth a list of known risk factors, none of which would individually trigger an inspection,” Webster wrote.

These risk factors include employment in healthcare, working alone or in small numbers, late-night or early-morning shifts, working in high-crime areas, and others. If your workplace has some of these factors, there are four questions OSHA must answer in the wake of a violent incident to determine if you violated the General Duty clause:

  1. Did the employer fail to keep its workplace free of a foreseeable workplace violence hazard?
  2. Was the hazard explicitly recognized or recognized in a high-risk industry?
  3. Was the hazard causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm?
  4. Was there a feasible and useful means by which to correct the hazard?

Answering “yes” to all four questions above–which align loosely with the four-pronged test articulated last year in a Government Accountability Office report on workplace violence prevention—would tend to support an alleged violation of the General Duty Clause. (An affirmative response to fewer than four of the above questions could still warrant a “hazard alert letter” with recommendations to improve safety.)

For any employers looking for practical steps to minimize risks, there is an 11-page list in Appendix A of the directive. It outlines engineering and administrative controls, and it provides a table with recommended applications in various healthcare settings.

Webster said one of the keys to preventing workplace violence is making sure that your employees understand that they should report potentially violent behavior, not tolerate it.

“However, when you get to the suggested engineering and administrative controls,” Webster added, “be sure to balance them against other laws governing your workplace, including state, local, and federal privacy laws and safety and building codes and standards.”

For more on the prospect of a federal OSHA standard on workplace violence prevention in healthcare, see the June edition of HCPro’s Briefings on Hospital Safety newsletter.

MGH settlement underscores drug diversion problems

By: September 30th, 2015 Email This Post Print This Post

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) just got hit with the largest fine ever involving allegations of drug diversion at a hospital. In the settlement, MGH agreed to pay the United States $2.3 million to resolve allegations that lax controls enabled MGH employees to steal controlled substances for personal use. MGH has also agreed to implement a comprehensive corrective action plan to prevent, identify, and address future diversions.

The settlement stems from a 2013 investigation following an MGH disclosure to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that two of its nurses had stolen large volumes of prescription medications from the hospital. Altogether, the two nurses stole nearly 16,000 pills, mostly oxycodone, an addictive painkiller, from automated dispensing machines that MGH used to store and dispense prescription medications.

Read the rest of the story here.

The settlement drives home the idea that drug diversion is a huge problem in America’s healthcare facilities, and we’d like to help you prevent such problems in your facility.

We’d like to know what precautions your clinic or hospital has in place to monitor and control prescription medication. We are considering producing a book that would help healthcare facilities in their fight against drug thefts.

Please drop me a line at jpalmer@hcpro.com with your comments, and a few words about what you would like to see in such a book. What information would help you out in a book about drug diversion prevention?

Have a great day!

John Palmer

Alta Bates Summit ordered to pay $84,450

By: July 12th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Cal/OSHA has imposed an $84,450 fine on Alta Bates Summit Medical Center for failure to warn and protect a hospital worker and an Oakland police officer exposed to an emergency room patient with meningitis, according to the San Jose Mercury News, July 2.

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Weekly poll: OSHA fines vs. environmental fines

By: June 25th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

One of the recommendations that the American Industrial Hygiene Association made to OSHA was to increase fines to put them more in line with other regulatory agencies, and cites state and federal environmental violations as examples.  Do you believe that OSHA fines are too lenient, especially when compared to fines imposed by environmental regulatory agencies? Take the OSHA Healthcare Advisor Weekly Poll and let us know.

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AIHA advice for OSHA includes stiffening fines

By: June 22nd, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has released a white paper which highlights the emerging roles and issues facing OSHA.

“Perspective on the Role of OSHA in Advancing Occupational Safety and Health for the Nation” makes 17 recommendations addressing OSHAs current approach and opportunities for improved effectiveness in key areas enumerated in the agency’s strategic plan and the 2011–2016 strategic plan, including f the Department of Labor (DOL), including the modification of OSHA penalties.

AIHA calls the current maximum penalty structure—$70,000 per violation for willful or repeat violations, $7,000 per day for failure to abate hazards, and $7,000 per violation for other violations—”woefully inadequate” compared to fines from other regulatory agencies. For example, employer fines for breaking environmental laws can be as high as $25,000 a day.  Also, OSHA’s maximum criminal penalty for a willful violation leading to the death of a worker is six months compared to 15 years in jail for the serious violation of environmental laws.

“AIHA supports amending OSHA criminal penalties so that they are at least as stringent as penalties for violations of environmental laws.” according to the white paper.

Other recommendations include:

  • Having primary authority for all safety and health issues in workplaces that the agency regulates
  • Reforming the standard-setting process
  • Applying standards to all workers, including municipal, state and federal
  • Promoting occupational safety and health programs for small and medium-sized employers
  • The continuation of the general duty clause to enforce employer responsibility to provide safe and healthful working conditions.
  • Updating the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)

Vital stats: Passing an OSHA NEP inspection

By: June 4th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

OSHA’s recently announced a National Emphasis Program (NEP) for nursing and residential care facilities will focus on exposure to blood and OPIM; exposure to other communicable diseases such as TB; exposure to hazardous chemicals and drugs; ergonomic stressors related to lifting patients; workplace violence; and slips, trips, and falls. OSHA Healthcare Advisor asked its readers, regardless of facility type, how confident they were that their healthcare facility would be citation-free if an OSHA NEP inspection occurred right now.

Here are the results.

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OSHA hits four Veterans Administration clinics with safety notices

By: May 25th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

OSHA issued 30 notices of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions to four U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in California. The facilities involved are the VA hospital in Mather and at outpatient clinics in Martinez, Fairfield and Oakland, and all are part of the VA’s Northern California Health Care System, according to a May 24 agency news release.

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Weekly poll: Surviving an OSHA inspection, right now

By: April 9th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

OSHA’s recently announced National Emphasis Program  (NEP) for nursing and residential care facilities will focus on exposure to blood and other potentially infectious material; exposure to other communicable diseases such as tuberculosis; exposure to hazardous chemicals and drugs; ergonomic stressors related to lifting patients; workplace violence; slips, trips and falls.

Regardless of your facility type, how confident are you that your healthcare facility would be citation-free if an OSHA NEP inspection occurred right now? Take the OSHA Healthcare Advisor Weekly Poll and let us know.

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