OSHA Urges Action on Spike in Healthcare Injuries, Illnesses

By Guy Burdick

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) urged healthcare employers to address a spike in workplace illnesses and injuries among their employees. There was a 249% increase in injury and illness rates in 2020 among nursing assistants, according to the agency, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

There was a 38.3% increase across private industry cases in days away from work (DAFW) in 2020, the BLS reported in its Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), the bureau’s annual tally of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses. The BLS also compiles an annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).

DAFW cases for registered nurses increased by 58,590 cases (290.8%) to 78,740 cases.

“Healthcare workers routinely face the risks associated with exposures to bloodborne pathogens, drug residue, X-ray machines, respiratory illness, and ergonomic injuries related to lifting patients and repetitive tasks,” Ryan Hodge, OSHA’s acting Kansas City, Missouri, regional administrator, said in an agency statement.

“Our nation’s caregivers have made extraordinary sacrifices in recent years–putting themselves on the frontline in a pandemic–and we owe it to them to ensure their employers are doing all they can to protect their employees.”

There were 1,176,340 nonfatal injuries and illnesses that caused a private industry worker to miss at least 1 day of work in 2020. Of those cases, 33.2% (390,020

cases) were categorized as “other diseases due to viruses not elsewhere classified,” which include reported COVID-19-related illnesses.

On December 27, 2021, OSHA announced it had withdrawn the expired portions of its June 21 COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) for healthcare facilities and healthcare support services. The rule’s COVID-19 log and reporting requirements remain in effect.

However, the agency has plans to move forward with rulemakings for infectious disease hazards in health care and related industries, including COVID-19, and workplace violence in health care and social services, according to the Department of Labor’s fall 2021 semiannual regulatory agenda, published January 31.

While OSHA has withdrawn all but the recordkeeping requirements of its healthcare COVID-19 ETS, along with its broader vaccine-or-testing ETS, the agency plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for an infectious disease standard in April.

The rulemaking would address the hazards of COVID-19 in health care, as well as the infectious disease hazards posed by measles, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), pandemic influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), tuberculosis (TB), and varicella disease (chickenpox, shingles).

Any standard developed under the rulemaking could also apply to coroners’ offices, correctional facilities, drug treatment programs, emergency response, homeless shelters, medical examiners, medical laboratories, pathologists, and mortuaries.

OSHA also is proceeding with an industry-specific workplace violence prevention rulemaking. The agency is preparing for a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review of the rulemaking.

OSHA described workplace violence as a “widespread problem” and asserted that workers in healthcare and social services occupations face unique safety risks. The agency noted BLS data showing that workers at psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals experience the highest rate of violent injuries that result in DAFW—a rate six times that for workers at nursing and residential care facilities.

OSHA continues to address workplace ergonomic hazards by citing instances of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.