In its May 24, 2011, Daily Labor Report®, the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (“BNA”) reported that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") is developing a national emphasis program targeting nursing homes and similar health care facilities. OSHA national emphasis programs have been used in the past to focus on specific industries or specific, persistent safety and health problems. Citing agency spokesman Enrique Chaurand, BNA reported that OSHA is developing a program designed to protect nursing home employees from illness and injury that, if approved, is expected to last at least three years. According to the BNA report, Chaurand indicated that the number and range of facilities that will be included in the emphasis program will be “large.”
It is not surprising that OSHA is developing a national emphasis program targeting nursing homes in light of the relatively high injury and illness rates within the industry. According to a 2002 Bureau of Labor Statistics Report, nursing and personal care facilities experienced an average lost workday injury and illness rate that was more than twice that for private industry as a whole. Nursing and personal care facilities also face a variety of hazards that are not present in most industries. For example, according to OSHA the “[m]ost prevalent hazards in this industry include: musculoskeletal disorders related to resident handling; needlesticks and exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials; [and] exposure to tuberculosis.” Undoubtedly, the national emphasis program, if implemented, will focus on these common hazards.
Employers operating nursing homes or similar health care facilities can expect increased inspections and more aggressive enforcement efforts if OSHA moves forward with its national emphasis program. Thus, employers in the industry should act now to review their health and safety programs to ensure that they are comprehensive and effective. Employers that do not maintain and enforce a thorough safety and health program not only jeopardize the health of their employees, they also could face steep fines if an OSHA inspector comes knocking.