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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

OSHA Targets High-Injury rates in Healthcare

Hospitals, be forewarned: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is preparing to flex its muscles in an enforcement push targeting the high rate of injuries in health care.

Rather than allowing the National Emphasis Program in nursing homes to expire as scheduled in April 2015, OSHA informed its regional offices that the agency will “soon issue updated guidance that instructs OSHA offices to allocate enforcement and other resources to additional inpatient healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals that have occupational illness and injury rates above the industry average.” OSHA cites the hazards of musculoskeletal disorders from lifting patients or residents, exposures to tuberculosis, bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, and slips, trips and falls.

The OSHA announcement comes as injuries in health care remain persistently high. In 2013, the most recent data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five injuries were in the health and social services sector. State-run nursing homes had the highest injury and illness rate among all worksites – higher even than police and firefighters.

Hospitals had an overall injury rate about twice as high as the private industry average—5.9 injuries per 100 full-time workers, compared with 3.1 for private industry. In a recent report on an injury surveillance program, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found a rate of patient handling injuries of 11.33 per 10,000 worker-months, with the greatest rate of injury occurring while repositioning patients in bed. The mismatch between enforcement and injuries has been most glaring in patient handling.

About 11,000 nurses have musculoskeletal disorder injuries each year that are serious enough to cause them to miss work, a number that has budged little in the past three years. OSHA has never issued a general duty clause citation related to patient handling injuries in a hospital. That seems likely to change, especially since OSHA has successfully used the “general duty clause” of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to cite nursing homes for injuries due to resident lifting.

For more on this story see the July 2015 issue of Hospital Employee Health.