VA hospital workers exposed to infectious diseases
-But OSHA can't issue fines to a government agency
Workers at a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Oregon were potentially exposed to infectious diseases and sharps injuries, according to OSHA inspections conducted at the facility in April as part of a Local Emphasis Program.
The agency has issued a notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions for 17 violations found at the VA's White City Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics facility. OSHA's Portland Area Office has conducted 15 inspections of VA medical facilities in Oregon in the last five years, resulting in 20 repeat and 39 serious violations.
OSHA issued notices for 10 serious violations including: lack of adequate controls for infectious disease; inadequate exposure control plan, which potentially exposed transitional work employees to bloodborne pathogens; and lack of access to rapid HIV tests after occupational exposures. Additionally, the inspection found improperly stored sharps containers and flammable materials, and negligence in maintaining facilities.
Five repeat safety violations were also identified. The site had not reviewed or updated its annual bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan to determine if safer medical devices could have replaced existing devices not equipped with inherent safety features. Employees were also found administering treatments without the appropriate personal protection equipment. Other repeat violations included: lack of training in the use of powered industrial trucks, lack of protective barriers from steam lines and unguarded saw blades.
OSHA’s Andrea J. Reid called for annual reviews of the facility’s safety and health programs. "The serious and recurring nature of the violations warrant concern," she noted.
As required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal agencies must comply with the same safety standards as private sector employers. The federal agency equivalent to a private-sector "citation" is a notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions, informing agency officials of OSHA violations and citable program elements of 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1960 - Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Programs.
Unlike the private sector, OSHA cannot impose penalties to federal agencies. However, the equivalent private-sector penalty for these violations would be $153,000. The medical center has 15 business days from receipt of OSHA's notice to comply or request an informal conference with OSHA's Area Director.