OSHA Cites Three Health Care Systems for COVID-19 Violations

Nancy Cleeland By Nancy Cleeland September 16, 2020
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OSHA Cites Three Health Care Systems for COVID-19 Violations

​The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wrapped up investigations and issued citations against three health care systems for violating worker safety laws related to COVID-19.

The violations in all three cases date back to March and April, during the early days of the pandemic, and involve failures to provide and fit workers with proper personal protective equipment, including masks and gowns. At the time, many health care professionals were complaining of inadequate protective gear.

OSHA records show the agency has logged more than 2,000 COVID-19 complaints since mid-April from health care employees, far more than those in any other sector.

The latest citations were announced Sept. 10 and 11, about six months after the first investigation was opened. OSHA must close an investigation and issue citations within six months.

The following news sources provide additional information and context:

Institutions in Louisiana and New Jersey

Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System in Shreveport, La., was cited when OSHA found that employees in the emergency department often shared used protective gowns or did not have protective gowns to wear while treating patients. OSHA proposed $13,494 in penalties for that violation. The Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, N.J., was cited for failing to fit test medical-grade respirators such as N95s on employees who were required to use them, and for failing to train employees in their use. OSHA proposed penalties of $9,639. The most serious charges and biggest penalties were issued to Hackensack Meridian Health Residential Care Inc. in New Jersey for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus at its North Bergen facility. OSHA proposed a penalty of $28,070 for those violations.

(DOL News Releases)

Nursing Home Didn't Provide Appropriate Masks and Training

The citations against Hackensack Meridian, one of New Jersey's largest hospital chains, stem from violations in late March at The Harborage, a 245-bed long-term-care facility in North Bergen. At least 25 residents at that facility have died from the virus. OSHA said that on March 23 and 24, the facility required workers to wear surgical masks but did not provide them with the more effective N95 masks. And the facility did not train workers on how to properly use the masks, nor did it ensure that the masks were a correct fit. Officials at Hackensack Meridian Health denied they endangered staff and said they plan to appeal the citations.  The employee union said two members died: a patient care technician and an assistant who transported patients between facilities. 

(NJBiz)

More OSHA Citations Likely

Because of its six-month deadline to wrap up an investigation, OSHA will soon need to issue citations or close cases in about 55 virus-related inspections, including 45 cases involving a worker's death or hospitalization, an analysis by Bloomberg found. OSHA has opened 996 inspections involving COVID-19 issues, and 602 of them involve a worker fatality or hospitalization, according to enforcement records. Worker advocates will be watching how the agency handles these early cases. OSHA doesn't have a specific rule requiring employers to protect workers from the coronavirus, a point Democrats and labor unions have repeatedly made. Instead, the agency's enforcement is expected to depend on existing rules, such as mandates for respirators, training and fit testing and for protecting workers from blood that could carry viruses. The agency is also expected to use the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to cite employers. The clause requires employers to provide workplaces that are free of known, dangerous hazards that can be feasibly mitigated.

(Bloomberg)

Indiana OSHA Finds VA Hospital Failed to Protect Support Staff

Twenty-five states operate their own occupational safety and health programs and they are also beginning to issue citations from the early days of the pandemic. The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis for failing to adequately protect workers. Although health care professionals dealing with known COVID-19 patients were protected, health care screeners, intake workers and other support staff were not supplied with appropriate masks.

(WTHR News)


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