Safety

More OSHA scrutiny on healthcare organizations, expanded whistleblower protections

Healthcare Life Safety Compliance, June 17, 2021

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Healthcare Life Safety Compliance.

by Brian Ward

In March, OSHA issued its Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The updates extend existing OSHA protections for workplace safety whistleblowers, explicitly stating those protections apply to those who report COVID-19 related violations at the workplace by creating a National Emphasis Program (NEP).

In addition, the memo also classifies industries based on the inherent COVID-19 risks for their workers. Naturally, those in the healthcare industry are considered at higher risk. This means that healthcare clinics and hospitals should expect more OSHA scrutiny, and possibly more OSHA surveys, than before. Whenever practical, OSHA will perform on-site surveys, but remote or partially remote surveys will also be an option.

“The NEP targets establishments that have workers with increased potential exposure to this hazard,” according to the update. “In addition, this NEP includes an added focus to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation and are accomplishing this by preventing retaliation where possible, distributing anti-retaliation information during inspections, and outreach opportunities, as well as promptly referring allegations of retaliation to the Whistleblower Protection Program.”

The update took effect March 12, 2021 and will remain in effect for 12 months. In 2020 alone, OSHA collected over $3.5 million in COVID-19-related fines, with two New Jersey hospitals fined $13,000 and $25,000, respectively.

We spoke with OSHA expert Marge McFarlane, PhD, MT(ASCP), CJCP, CHSP, CHFM, MEP, HEM, about what these changes will mean for healthcare employers and employees. McFarlane is the principal of Superior Performance in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and senior consultant with Compass Clinical Consulting in Cincinnati.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Healthcare Life Safety Compliance.

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