Nursing Home National Emphasis Program Coming Within Months, OSHA's Michaels Says

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By Bruce Rolfsen

Citing continued high injury rates among health care workers, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reaffirmed the agency's intention to start an inspection effort targeting nursing homes and other residential care facilities.

“The rates of injuries and illnesses among hospital and health care workers underscore OSHA's concern about the safety and health of these workers,” Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels said in a Nov. 9 announcement. “OSHA is responding by launching, in the next few months, a national emphasis program on nursing home and residential care facilities.”

OSHA officials would not elaborate on their target date for starting the emphasis program, how many years they expect the program to run, or how employers will be chosen for inspections.

In May, OSHA told BNA of plans to move forward with a nursing home emphasis program (41 OSHR 463, 5/26/11).

Site-Specific Targeting Program

Nursing homes already are among the establishments singled out for inspections through OSHA's site-specific targeting program. Under that program, about 500 nursing homes were subject to OSHA inspections because of they had above-average numbers of workers with on-the-job injuries in 2011.

Bill Borwegen, director of health and safety for the Service Employees International Union, which represents many health care workers, welcomed the emphasis program.

“This is a positive development, but a lot more needs to be done as well,” Borwegen told BNA Nov. 15. A broader program would include hospitals and would feature OSHA staff members who specialize in health care facility inspections, he said.

Katherine Preede, public affairs manager for American Health Care Association, told BNA Nov. 15 that the association remains committed to workplace safety and hopes to “work with OSHA to uphold this commitment to our caregivers.”

High Rate Details

Michaels's comments came the same day the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its report on how often employees missed at least one day of work because of workplace injuries or illnesses, the Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away From Work, 2010. (See related story in this issue.)

The BLS report put some health care occupations high on the list of those whose employees most often miss work because of on-the-job injuries. For nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants, 489 out of every 10,000 employees had medical issues that kept them home in 2010. Only law enforcement officers and bus drivers had higher rates. The average rate for all workers was 118.

Of those health care workers, the most common injuries were muscle sprains, strains, and tears, at 56 percent; and bruises and contusions, at 9 percent.

The most common causes of these injuries were overexertion from activities such as lifting, at 49 percent; falls, at 18 percent; and contact with objects, at 12 percent, BLS said.