Henshaw: OSHA Won't Renew National Emphasis Program for Nursing Homes

In a speech earlier this month at the annual convention of the American Health Care Association, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said the agency would not renew a national emphasis program in nursing homes began in July 2002.

"We said we would conduct about 1,000 inspections, and we have completed nearly that many," said Henshaw. He said the agency has cited seven facilities under the general duty clause for failing to protect workers from ergonomic hazards, and has issued alert letters to 104 additional sites.

For five of the seven nursing homes with citations, OSHA signed settlement agreements, and is working toward settlement with the other two sites. Further, sites that have received ergonomic hazard alert letters are moving forward to address the problems at their facilities as well.

Henshaw applauded the industry for stepping forward and offering to partner with OSHA to develop a set of ergonomic guidelines for the industry. Noting OSHA tried to be sensitive to the concerns of the industry, Henshaw said the agency "carefully considered" nearly 100 comments on the draft guidelines.

"And we went back to the drawing board after about 50 stakeholders met with us last fall," he added. "We listened and we responded. Our final guidelines reflect many helpful suggestions we received from you. I believe the result is a document that offers real value to the long-term care industry based on real-world observations and practices."

Since March 13, more than 30,000 individuals have viewed the guidelines on OSHA's Web site, and the agency has given away thousands of copies of the printed guidelines.

Henshaw was adament about one point: "We do not, have not and will not enforce voluntary ergonomics guidelines… But that doesn't mean that we have abandoned our inspection program. We have not. We will continue to inspect workplaces where there are numerous MSDs, and we will cite employers if they have ignored their responsibility to protect their workers from injury."

He said in the last year and a half, OSHA has written letters and issued citations to companies that have evidenced corporate commitment to lowering ergonomic hazards in their workplaces but that have failed to effectively implement that commitment at specific sites. "This is a critical point," Henshaw said. "The corporate commitment must be translated to positive action at the individual workplaces."

"Nursing homes with high injury and illness rates will be subject to our regular site-specific targeting program. This means that in Fiscal Year 2004, which began Oct. 1, we will probably inspect about 400 long-term care facilities with the highest injury and illness rates, rather than 800 that might naturally rise to the top of our list.

Henshaw noted that while overall injury and illness rates at nursing homes have declined about 10 percent, and serious injury rates have dropped about 20 percent, in the past decade, rates remain high. More than 13 out of every 100 nursing home workers experienced a work-related injury or illness in 2001; more than double the private sector rate of 5.7.

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