Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Public Citizen Report that Insufficient OSHA Inspections Leave Healthcare Workers Unprotected

On July 17th 2013, Public Citizen, a national non-profit organization released a report titled "Health Care Workers Unprotected. Insufficient Inspections and Standards Leave Safety Risks Unaddressed."  The report cites the a CDC article that shows that Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, employing over 18 million workers. Women represent nearly 80% of the healthcare work force. Health care workers face a wide range of hazards on the job, including needlestick injuries, back injuries, latex allergy, violence, and stress. ... The high rate of injuries among healthcare workers has been discussed before on this blog, especially with regard to chemical exposures.

Cases of nonfatal occupational injury and illness among to healthcare workers are among the highest of any industry sector. By contrast, two of the most hazardous industries, agriculture and construction, are safer today than they were a decade ago.  This at a time when healthcare spending and the number of people employed in healthcare is increasing.

Public Citizen places the blame in OSHA's lack of inspection and lack of suitable ergonomic standards applicable to healthcare and the following statistics show that they have a good point.

No. Employed
No Injuries
No Fatalities
No. Inspections
9.1 million
14.1 million
Healthcare and Social Assistance
18.9 million

The number of inspections in healthcare and social assistance is proportionately much smaller than in either manufacturing or construction. Some of this difference is due to the more severe injuries in manufacturing and construction, but even when comparing the relative rates of fatalities the report says that OSHA conducts fewer than 1/4th as many inspections in health care as in construction in proportion to the number of fatalities.

This blog has also commented previously on the lack of OSHA inspections, due to a lack of resources, even though the revenues from the additional inspections would almost fully reimburse the treasury.

The other point that the Public Citizen report makes is that there are insufficient standards relevant to healthcare, especially ergonomics. This blog has also discussed previously about how it is more difficult for OSHA to promulgate new standards and regulations compared to many other government agencies. If there are not applicable standards available, then OSHA must use the General Duty Clause in order to prosecute unsafe work practices. The additional evidentiary burden makes these prosecutions few and far between.

As Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said "It is unacceptable that the workers who have dedicated their lives to caring for our loved ones when they are sick are the very same workers who face the highest risk of work-related injury and illness."

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