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The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced Thursday June 25th that it's going to crack down on hospitals, for the first time ever, to prevent what they call an epidemic of back and arm injuries among nursing employees. OSHA Chief David Michaels recently announced that OSHA's inspectors will investigate what hospitals are doing to make sure that nursing employees don't get disabled doing their everyday jobs lifting patients.
OSHA sent letters last year to hospital administrators across the country and created a website warning that nursing employees suffer high rates of injuries from moving and lifting patients. But OSHA's new initiative, outlined in an "enforcement memo" that the agency plans to send Thursday (June 25th) to its 10 regional offices, takes the agency from merely recommending safe practices to potentially fining hospitals if they do not adopt them.
Michaels was recently interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR) and responded to a five part series they ran last year on injured nurses. "We've seen from the statistics how bad the problems are, but we haven't been to that many hospitals — and the NPR stories helped motivate us to say, 'What can we do?' " Michaels says. "It's time for us to start doing some enforcement to make sure fewer workers are hurt."
OSHA's inspectors will interview nursing staff and managers, and review internal hospital documents, to answer questions such as: What kinds of machines and other devices are used by the hospital to move patients? Does the hospital have an adequate supply of the equipment? How well does the hospital train its staff to use it? Does management track and promptly treat injuries among nursing staff?
A typical penalty would likely be $7,000 per hospital, according to an OSHA official, but it could be as high as $70,000 in cases where evidence suggests that hospital administrators deliberately ignored the problem. Under the new enforcement memo, inspectors will also investigate how hospitals are protecting nursing staff from other hazards, including attacks by patients, slips and falls, and tuberculosis.
North Carolina administers it's own Federally approved OSHA plan. Look for updates from CAI in the very near future as to how this new federal initiative will play out in our state. Call George Ports at the association office for further assistance at (919) 713-5267.