OSHA, JCAHO align to battle biohazards

Alliance to provide education

In the latest of alliances it has formed with other organizations, OSHA has paired with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) and the Joint Commission Resources Inc. (JCR) to give health care workers a safer workplace. The alliance, signed by OSHA, JCAHO, and JCR directors in August, primarily will allow the agencies to coordinate and maximize education and compliance assistance to health care organizations by providing information and access to training resources on biological and airborne hazard topics, in addition to emergency preparedness, ergonomics, and workplace violence.

"JCR’s expertise in educational programming, combined with the safety know-how of OSHA and the Joint Commission, will provide a sound framework for disseminating information about opportunities to reduce employee injuries and illnesses in health care organizations," says Karen Timmons, CEO of JCR, an affiliate of JCAHO. Both JCR and JCAHO are headquartered in Oakbrook Terrace, IL.

The alliance among the three agencies is planned to be an education partnership agreement that will help health care organizations meet JCAHO accreditation expectations and comply with OSHA regulations. The educational aspect of the partnership is expected to improve efficiency and reduce duplication in oversight activities. JCAHO evaluates nearly 16,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States and accredits health plans, integrated delivery networks, and other managed care entities. JCR is a global, knowledge-based organization that provides tools and solutions to help health care organizations maintain accreditation standards and respond to issues impacting the health care industry.

OSHA’s role is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health. In recent years, OSHA has employed alliances as a means of encouraging voluntary change and compliance.

OSHA administrator John Henshaw says the OSHA/JCAHO/JCR alliance will focus on emerging occupational biological and airborne safety and health issues in the workplace, and will eliminate duplication of efforts by the agencies. "By drawing on the expertise of JCAHO/JCR, together we can make positive strides in ensuring that health care workers are armed with the tools they need to stay safe and healthy at work," he announced in a press release at the time the alliance agreement was signed.

JCAHO president Dennis O’Leary, MD, says the alliance is a logical extension of the relationship between JCAHO and OSHA that dates back to 1996, when OSHA announced an educational partnership with JCAHO. The purpose of the partnership was stated to be to help each agency "become more knowledgeable about each other’s standards; to explore opportunities for reducing the number of health care workers’ illnesses and injuries; and to improve compliance by health care organizations."

While OSHA, JCAHO, and JCR will work together to develop and communicate information on the recognition and prevention of workplace hazards, JCAHO surveyors, who document health care organizations’ compliance with JCAHO requirements, will not turn into OSHA inspectors. Information will be shared among OSHA personnel and industry safety and health professionals regarding JCAHO/JCR, but the alliance is not intended to be, nor designed to be, a means for uncovering OSHA violations during JCAHO inspections.

OSHA and JCAHO/JCR will work together to develop training and education programs targeted to health care workers on topics including emergency preparedness, biological and airborne hazards, ergonomics, and workplace violence.

In addition, the agencies will provide each other expertise in the areas of safety and communications, each will provide speakers to the other for conferences, and will identify opportunities, as they arise, to expand upon the OSHA/JCAHO/ JCR agreement.

OSHA has entered into several dozen alliances since the 1990s. According to Henshaw, alliances provide OSHA and its allies the opportunity to voluntarily cooperate with each other for purposes of training, education, outreach, communication, and the promotion of a national dialogue on workplace health and safety. An implementation team made up of representatives of each organization meets to develop a plan of action, determine working procedures, and identify the roles and responsibilities of the participants.

OSHA has identified three goals of alliances that typically are made explicit in formal alliance agreements:

  • expand avenues for training and education;
  • provide outreach and communication;
  • promote the national dialogue on safety and health.

The OSHA/JCAHO/JCR agreement will remain in effect for two years, unless terminated by the director of any of the three allied agencies. Alliances differ from strategic partnerships. The crucial differences between the two kinds of relationships are that alliances are not based on a specific work site and have no enforcement component.

For more information, contact:

Karen Timmons, CEO, Joint Commission Resources, One Lincoln Centre, Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181. Telephone: (630) 268-7400. E-mail: ktimmons@jcrinc.com.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20210. Web site: www.osha.gov.