E-answers: OSHA’s advice right at your fingertips

Internet tool offers overview of hazards

What are the dangers in a wheelchair-bound patient’s room? Click. Ergonomics. Wheel-chairs with removable arms allow for easier lateral transfers. What often leads to slips, trips and falls in central supply? Click. Employee exposure to slippery floors from steam and washing processes. With the Hospital e-Tool feature now available on the web site of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), answers to common employee health questions are just a click away.

Far from the dry, technical language of guidelines, standards, and bulletins, the new e-Tools feature offers quick educational links designed for both employees and employers. They are very visual, allowing the user to click on different units of the hospital and then on items within a room. The accompanying text includes links to more detailed OSHA documents.

OSHA is promoting the e-Tools as part of its new ergonomics approach. Information on the e-Tools can be used as a part of safety and health training.

"This is a good example of the kind of outreach materials we can use," says Elise Handelman, RN, MEd, COHN-S, director of OSHA’s office of occupational health nursing. "The visual aspect helps some of the workers who may not relate to formal bureaucratic language."

The site also makes it easy to access information on a range of hazards, says MaryAnn Gruden, MSN, CRNP, NP-C, COHN-S/CM, AOHP executive president and employee health nurse practitioner with Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh.

"This is a great resource with numerous links not only to OSHA standards but to other resources," she says. "I would encourage anyone in occupational health in health care to take a few minutes and explore this site."

Use it as an overview

The tool could be used as an overview for employers "to get a sense of the breadth and scope of what their [health and safety] program should cover," Handelman notes. But it’s not comprehensive, she acknowledges.

For example, in the laboratory area, OSHA mentions exposure to tuberculosis, bloodborne pathogens, formaldehyde, and other chemicals such as Toulene and Xylene. But the recent caution from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on working with meningococcal strains is not mentioned.

Such items could be added, with links to the appropriate documents of other agencies, Handelman says.

Each e-Tools site has an editor and an editorial advisory board who review it periodically for updates, she says.

While e-Tools can be useful for those who are reviewing their programs or providing orientation for workers, it is not directly related to OSHA enforcement. The items on the e-Tools site can’t be used as a checklist to determine if you’re in compliance with OSHA standards.

"It’s an outreach tool, it’s not an audit tool," says Handelman. "It’s not intended to replace an OSHA inspection."

Certainly, e-Tools won’t answer every possible question about hospital health hazards.

"There’s no way this can be all encompassing," she says. "If [employee health professionals] get on here and they don’t find what they need or they want more depth than they can find on the web site, then they can call their local OSHA office."

(Editor’s note: The Hospital e-Tools can be accessed through the OSHA home page at www.osha.gov.)