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New OSHA program may offer protection to health care workers

Colorado residents who work in health care facilities may be interested to learn that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is tightening its regulations that protect workers in this industry. Furthermore, the agency's definition of health care facilities for this purpose is a broad one and includes assisted living facilities, substance abuse centers and continuing care retirement centers.

On June 25, 2015, a memo regarding OSHA's new initiative was distributed detailing the new regulations. Compliance officers visiting health care facilities will focus on five major areas of concern including falls, tuberculosis, musculoskeletal disorders, bloodborne pathogens and workplace violence. However, the initiative also gives compliance offers the flexibility to focus on other potential dangers not specifically named, such as MRSA or potential exposure to chemical hazards. Some of these hazards are not governed by specific OSHA regulations, but practices around them fall under the umbrella of an employer's duty to keep its employees safe.

At least one case suggests that OSHA may be preparing to depart from its usual practice of only issuing hefty fines when a fatality has occurred. Following an employee complaint, OSHA fined an ambulatory care center $200,000 when it found multiple violations during a site inspection. Health care facilities are now being encouraged to prepare for the possibility of an OSHA inspection and to be aware of potentially punitive fines for failing to comply with regulations.

Health care workers have long suffered disproportionately from on-the-job injuries due to the physical demands of their duties, such as moving patients, without sufficient guidelines and equipment in place to ensure that the worker remains safe. A health care worker who has suffered a workplace injury may wish to consult with an attorney about the procedure for filing a claim for workers' compensation benefits.

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