Unions’ Biggest Ally OSHA Focusing Enforcement Efforts on Healthcare

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently declared its intent to increase its enforcement efforts in the healthcare industry at in-patient care facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, and residential care centers. OSHA decided to indefinitely continue its emphasis program on nursing and residential facilities and to allocate more resources to the healthcare industry because of the industry’s high number of work-related injuries and illnesses.

OSHA will focus on five main hazards when it inspects health care facilities: (1) musculoskeletal disorders from lifting patients, (2) exposure to infectious diseases, (3) bloodborne pathogens, (4) workplace violence, and (5) slips, trips, and falls. Several of these hazards are not regulated by any specific OSHA regulation, so OSHA plans to use its General Duty clause in issuing citations. The General Duty clause, aka “the catch all clause,” allows OSHA to issue citations to employers if it finds that the employer has failed to provide employees with an environment free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

So how does OSHA enforcement relate to unions? Unions are the leading filers of OSHA charges, and the presence of a union increases the chance of a workplace being subject to an OSHA inspection. Employees organizing a union campaign may also file OSHA charges in an effort to overwhelm an employer who is attempting to combat the union campaign. Because OSHA visits are often unannounced, companies should have a comprehensive plan in place for responding to an OSHA investigator showing up on the doorstep.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.