The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act provides guidelines to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. OSHA covers most private-sector employers and their employees and some public-sector employers and employees. OSHA does not cover self-employed people, immediate family members of farm employers, and workplace hazards regulated by a different federal agency. For example, miners are covered under the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Employers of medical offices, practices, and facilities are subject to all OSHA laws and standards to assure safe and healthful working conditions. It is essential to remain compliant with OSHA standards as it can result in heavy fines that cost your practice over $150,000. The best way to ensure compliance with OSHA standards is to have up-to-date knowledge of OSHA regulations and a practical plan for complying with these laws. Listed below are eight OSHA standards that medical offices are required to follow:
- Identify safety and health hazards and reduce risk to a low and acceptable level.
- Inform employees about safety and health risks in the workplace
- Notify employees of OSHA citations, injury, and illness data
- Provide training to employees to allow them to work safely and avoid hazards
- Provide personal protective equipment to workers (when necessary) at no cost
- Maintain records of accidents and work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths
- Notify OSHA of any workplace fatality, hospitalization, or serious workplace injury
- Ensure employees do not face retaliation or discrimination for exercising their rights under the OSH Act.
Specific Standards Under OSHA
Various regulations under OSHA apply to more than just the healthcare industry. However, there are five compliance standards that apply to all medical practices. Listed below are the five OSHA standards that are most commonly violated:
- The Hazard Communication Standard
- The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard
- The Personal Protective Equipment Standard
- The Ionizing Radiation Standard
- Medical Office and Practice OSHA Inspections standards
The Hazard Communication Standard
The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), also known as the “right-to-know” standard, was established to provide workers the “right-to-know” of potential hazards associated with their jobs. This standard requires all chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey the hazard information to their customers. It also requires all employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces to have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers and train them to handle the chemicals accordingly. This standard provides a hazard classification process that includes several steps that give more detail on the process of complying with this standard. Listed below are the several steps to take in this process, according to the OSHA website:
- Identifying the chemical
- Identifying the relevant data regarding the hazards of a chemical
- Reviewing the relevant data to ascertain the hazards associated with the chemical
- Determining whether the chemical will be classified as hazardous according to the definition of hazardous chemical in the standard
- Determining the degree of the hazard, where appropriate, by comparing the data with the criteria for health and physical hazards
Hazard refers to an inherent property of a substance that is capable of causing an adverse effect. Luckily, The Hazard Communication Standard provides specific criteria for classifying hazardous material to ensure that chemical manufacturers, importers, and other classification experts come to the same conclusions regarding the hazard level of chemicals. Three primary resources are required for hazard classification (1) the complete, accurate, and up-to-date information and data concerning the hazardous chemical that is being discussed, (2) the ability to properly understand and interpret the information retrieved in order to categorize and document hazards, (3) and the detailed criteria for each health and physical hazard class and category defined in the Hazard Communication Standard. Simplified means that a chemical that is clearly classified as a risk on its label must be fully explained in detail and outlined for employee understanding. OSHA laws require continuing education and training regarding hazardous chemicals to maintain up-to-date knowledge for compliance with this standard.
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The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard
OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard provides safeguards to protect workers against health hazards related to bloodborne pathogens. It has provisions for exposure control plans, work practice controls, relevant vaccinations, hazard communication and training, and documentation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines bloodborne pathogens as infectious microorganisms in human blood that can cause disease in humans. These pathogens can include Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). One of the requirements under this standard includes having an Exposure Control Plan. Having an Exposure Control Plan helps to minimize and eliminate employee exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Employers must have a written program that defines procedures for an incident of exposure, implementation, education, compliance methods, recordkeeping, and communication of hazards to employees. Employers are also in charge of providing the necessary safety devices and education to scale down the number of contaminated sharps incidents from needles, scalpels, broken glass, syringes, and other sharp items.
Sharps waste management is extremely relevant within this standard as medical practitioners often come into contact with these items. Sharps waste is defined as any biohazardous material that can puncture the skin and is contaminated with bodily fluids. It is important to understand how to properly dispose of sharps in order to protect both employees as well as ensure compliance with OSHA standards. The FDA recommends putting all sharps in designated disposal containers and then choosing one of three ways to dispose of them. The first way is to register for a mail-back service with a professional disposal company where your practice will send the container that is packaged and labeled accordingly, where the company will dispose of them safely and comply with HIPAA and OSHA regulations. The next is to register for a collection service with a waste disposal company that will come and pick up the containers and take them off-site to a treatment facility. Lastly, treating it on-site is the most resource-intensive method and requires specialized equipment. Therefore, the best way to dispose of sharps is to hire a professional waste disposal company, as it will ensure compliance with industry standards and cost less than treating it on-site at your practice.
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The Personal Protective Equipment Standard
Personal protective equipment, often called PPE, is worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. Personal Protective equipment may include gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests, and full-body suits. Personal protective equipment is extremely helpful in preventing direct contact with harmful substances and provides a barrier against infectious diseases or materials. This is why it is important for employers to have knowledge of each operation or practice within the facility and which personal protective equipment is required for each staff member in these positions. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for personal protective equipment skyrocketed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 from patient to medical professional. This equipment included face masks, face shields, protective gloves, gowns, and aprons. It is required for this equipment to be clean and reliable, as well as train employees on when, where, and what time personal protective equipment should be worn.
According to the OSHA site, OSHA requires protective equipment to be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation, or physical contact. The employer is also required to perform a verified workplace hazard assessment through a written certification that identifies the workplace evaluated, who performed the evaluation, the date of the assessment, and which documents identify as a certification of the hazard assessment. Personal protective equipment can be purchased at various retail stores and on Amazon. To learn more about OSHA requirements regarding personal protective equipment, click here.
The Ionizing Radiation Standard
The next standard requires employers to protect workers from exposure to ionizing radiation sources that are not regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or other federal agencies. If your medical office has x-ray machines, accelerators, incidental accelerator-produced radioactive materials, or ion implanters that emit radiation, this standard applies to your practice. OSHA standards state that No employer shall possess, use, or transfer sources of ionizing radiation in such a manner as to cause any individual in a restricted area to receive, in any period of one calendar quarter, from sources in the employer’s possession and control, a dose in excess of the following limits:
- Whole body: head and trunk; active blood-forming organs; the lens of eyes; or gonads: 1.25 rem per quarter
- Hands and forearms; feet and ankles: 18.75 rem per quarter
- The skin of the whole body: 7.5 rem per quarter
Under this standard, OSHA requires employers to ensure that occupational dose limits are not exceeded, survey radiation hazards to ensure they comply with the standard, supply appropriate personal monitoring, post caution signs, labels, and signals, and provide instruction to personnel and post-operating procedures. Control measures include shields and personal protective equipment for staff alongside personal radiation monitors. All areas that contain X-ray machines or other machines that emit radiation must be designed and controlled to reduce possible health risks due to radiation exposure. To learn more about the OSHA Ionizing Radiation Standard, click here.
Medical Office and Practice OSHA Inspection Standards
Employers should survey and analyze their workplace continually for additional hazards or other safety standards than those that have been mentioned. If employers do not do that, it is easy for an OSHA inspector to find any violation if they come to visit your medical office or if a complaint is filed against your practice. This is why regulatory OSHA training, education, and understanding are crucial for all medical practices that are required to comply with OSHA standards. The best way to prevent your medical office from OSHA non-compliance penalties is to hire a professional company that is certified in OSHA compliance training.
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OSHA Non-Compliance Penalties
An OSHA violation occurs when a company or employee willingly or unknowingly ignores potential and real safety hazards. Many times, violations can be categorized into four categories (1) severe, (2) other-than-serious, (3) willful, and (4) repeated. A serious violation occurs when your fail to identify a safety hazard, ignore the hazards, and don’t fix the hazards once detected. Employers must ensure all employees are being properly supervised, have barriers protecting them, and test the facility’s stability to avoid falls. Two examples of serious violations are electrical violations and respiratory protection. This is why it is vital to regularly inspect, sanitize, and use machinery according to the stated requirements to ensure all employees are properly trained. Next, an other-than-serious violation occurs when it does not result in injury or death, but an employee’s safety is put at risk. While penalties and fines can be the same amount as a serious violation, depending on the incident, OSHA can reduce the fine by up to 95%. An example of this violation is if your company fails to provide copies of safety procedures and the most important documents in the workplace. Finally, a willful violation occurs when the employer knowingly fails to comply with a legal requirement or acts indifferently to employee safety. The maximum penalty for willful violations will increase from $145,027 per violation to $156 259 per violation. To avoid these penalties, employers should always pay attention to safety hazards and be aware of any potential issues. Lastly, a repeated violation occurred when a previous OSHA violation or similar issue occurred, and your office repeated the same violation within the past five years. This is why it is essential to identify and quickly fix any possible violations. The penalty for a repeated violation is the same as the penalty for a willful violation, costing up to $156,259 per violation.
The 10 Most Common OSHA Violations in 2020
The ten violations listed consist primarily of the first three abovementioned standards, including the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, Hazard Communication Standard, and Personal Protective Equipment Standard. Hopefully, this article helped you better understand what these standards entail and how they relate to your medical office. Listed below are the ten most common OSHA violations for the healthcare industry in 2020:
- Respiratory Protection
- Bloodborne Pathogens
- Reporting Fatalities/Injuries
- Hazard Communication
- OSHA Recordkeeping
- General Personal Protective Equipment
- OSHA Recordkeeping Forms
- General Electrical Requirements
- Fire Extinguishers
- OSHA Recordkeeping—Providing Records
Here at MedPro, our goal is to make our customers’ lives easier by providing all the necessary resources and ensuring your medical office remains compliant with both HIPAA and OSHA standards. We understand the severe impact an OSHA or HIPAA violation can have on your medical practice. Our goal is to lessen the stress of compliance with OSHA and HIPAA regulations so your practice can focus on caring for your patients. MedPro Waste Disposal offers both OSHA and HIPAA Compliance Training services through a convenient online portal. To learn more about our OSHA Compliance Training services, click here.